NEW DELHI, (AFP) -UN Secretary General Kofi Annan led international condemnation of the series of bombings which claimed at least 61 lives in the Indian capital New Delhi, attacks which he described as a "terrorist outrage".
"The secretary general is appalled by and condemns the series of terrorist bombings which have resulted in many deaths in the Indian capital," a statement released by Annan”s press office said.
"The secretary general is particularly shocked that this latest terrorist outrage has occurred on the eve of the major Hindu festival of Diwali."
Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh blamed terrorists and said the explosions at crowded marketplaces on Saturday were timed to cause maximum damage with people shopping ahead of religious festivals next week.
"I condemn the cynical and premeditated attacks on innocent people. These are dastardly acts of terrorism aimed at the people of India," Singh told a press conference.
"These terrorists wish to spread a sense of fear and suspicion among peace loving people. The blasts have been timed to create disaffection during the festive season," he said.
No one immediately claimed responsibility for the apparently coordinated attacks, but suspicion immediately fell on insurgent groups opposed to the India-Pakistan peace process.
Islamabad was among the first to condemn the bombings, describing them as "a criminal act of terrorism" and calling for the perpetrators to be brought to justice.
"The attack in a crowded market place is a criminal act of terrorism," the Pakistani foreign ministry said.
"The people and government of Pakistan are shocked at this barbaric act and express deep sympathy with the families of the victims."
Messages of condemnation and condolences poured in from around the world, with Washington calling the bomb blasts "another sad reminder that terror knows no borders".
"These acts are made more heinous in that they deliberately targeted innocent civilians preparing for holiday celebrations," US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice said in a statement.
India”s former colonial ruler Britain condemned the "appalling attacks", with Foreign Secretary Jack Straw saying: "This is yet another example of terrorists” cynical and callous disregard for human life."
Australia, which earlier this month lost four nationals in suicide bombings on the Indonesian island of Bali and 88 in the 2002 attack, said such attacks were "unforgivable".
"It”s a dreadful attack, it was in a busy area, a market area, it wasn”t some kind of iconic political target," Prime Minister John Howard told Channel Nine television.
"When people start throwing bombs in markets, as they regularly do in Iraq and other parts of the world and it”s now in New Delhi, it shows how brutal and indiscriminate and unforgivable it really is."
In Bangladesh, Foreign Minister M. Morshed Khan called the bombings a "heinous act" and officials bolstered security in and around the capital Dhaka, with a meeting of South Asian leaders just two weeks away.
Elsewhere, Canadian Prime Minister Paul Martin deplored what he called a "cowardly act of violence", while South African President Thabo Mbeki offered condolences for the "dastardly act of terror".
"The South African government joins the international community in condemning these heinous acts of terrorism, particularly in a country that espouses the principles of democracy and freedom of its people," Mbeki said.
French Prime Minister Dominique de Villepin and European Union foreign policy chief Javier Solana also voiced their condemnation.
"Once again terrorism has struck savagely," Villepin said in a message to his Indian counterpart Singh.
"France firmly condemns terrorism and terrorist acts, of whatever kind," he said.
Chinese President Hu Jintao said Beijing condemned "all forms of terrorism".
"The Chinese government condemns all forms of terrorism and is willing to work together with the international community, including India, to fight terrorism and safeguard world peace and stability," the Xinhua news agency quoted Hu as saying in a message of condolence to his Indian counterpart Abdul Kalam.