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5 killed in blasts ahead of opposition rally in India

At least five people were killed and 24 injured in serial bomb blasts Thursday in eastern India ahead of a rally by opposition BJP's prime ministerial candidate.

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(STR/AFP/Getty Images)

At least five people were killed and 24 injured in serial bomb blasts Thursday in eastern India ahead of a rally addressed by prime ministerial candidate Narendra Modi of the main opposition Bharatiya Janata Party, local media reported.

The reports said several blasts rocked Patna, capital of Bihar state, including five at the rally site only minutes before Modi arrived at there, creating panic among the large number of people who had assembled for the event.

Just hours before, NDTV reported, a bomb had exploded at the railway station in Patna, killing one person and injuring another, while two other bombs were defused there.

Most of the other blasts took place at the rally site, Gandhi Maidan, a historic ground near the banks of Ganges, where thousands had gathered to hear Modi launch his party's campaign for the national election, due by May.

Despite the blasts, Modi went ahead with his address, accusing the ruling Congress party of devastating India in its 55 years of rule and saying he and the BJP can restore hope to the country and eradicate poverty.

In a statement on his office's website, Prime Minister Manmohan Singh condemned the blasts in Patna and called for urgent steps to identify and take action against those responsible.

He appealed to the people to maintain peace and calm, while calling on authorities to take immediate and firm action.

Last month, the BJP stirred controversy by declaring Modi, the chief minister of the western state of Gujarat, to be its prime ministerial candidate.

The 63-year-old Hindu nationalist is a controversial political figure for his failure -- and alleged unwillingness -- to prevent communal violence between Hindus and Muslims in Gujarat in 2002 in which more than 1,000 people, mostly Muslims, were killed.

India is currently led by a coalition government headed by Singh, 81, whose Congress party has ruled India for most of the six decades since its independence.

Modi is widely expected to contest the premiership with Rahul Gandhi, 43, the current Congress vice president and the son of assassinated Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi.

The BJP was in power as part of an alliance of parties from 1998 to 2004 under the premiership of Atal Bihari Vajpayee.