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Grief, anger as India reckons with its own "9/11"

MUMBAI (Reuters) - Shock gave way to grief and anger on Saturday as India grappled with what newpapers called its own “9/11” and protesters accused neighbouring Pakistan of being behind attacks that killed 195 people.

The Taj Mahal hotel is seen engulfed in smoke during a gun battle in Mumbai November 29, 2008. killed. REUTERS/Arko Datta

Commandos and rescue personnel were cleaning up the wreckage of a three-day rampage when about 50 protesters gathered near the smouldering Taj Mahal Palace Hotel.

“Our soldiers came and Pakistan ran away,” they shouted, pumping their fists skyward.

India has blamed the strikes on “elements” from nuclear rival Pakistan and evidence is mounting that the Islamist gunmen may have hatched their plan there.

For relatives of the victims, the reality of the attacks was laid bare at a morgue at the JJ Hospital in Mumbai.

“For three days, we kept hearing different reports about my sister. Finally, today when I saw her, her face was blown off,” said a relative of journalist Sabina Saikia, who was killed inside the Taj Mahal hotel.

A text message circulated throughout Mumbai urging people to wear black on Sunday. Many lit candles in cities across the country on Saturday as a mark of condolence.

Elsewhere across India, thousands mourned 20 policemen and soldiers killed fighting the heavily armed militants who turned India’s commercial and entertainment capital into a war zone with coordinated assaults on city landmarks.

“This is a day of mourning for all the men who laid down their lives,” Maharashtra state police Chief A.N. Roy told reporters.

The last rites were conducted with full state honours.

TV footage showed the flag-draped and garlanded coffins of the dead men -- widely described as martyrs -- being carried in brightly coloured processions. Military bands in red and black uniforms played and honour guards fired 21-gun salutes.

Newspapers called the Mumbai attacks India’s own “9/11”, referring to the Sept. 11, 2001, hijacked airliner attacks on the United States which killed about 3,000 2,973 people.

The Hindustan Times wrote: “India is under attack. The very idea of India is under attack...Playing the headless chicken is no longer an option”.

Politics did not take a break, with local polls taking place in New Delhi on Saturday.

The Hindu nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), India’s main opposition, took out front-page advertisements accusing the ruling Congress party coalition of failing to defend the nation.

“Brutal terror strikes at will. Weak government. Unwilling and incapable. Fight terror - Vote BJP,” said one ad, showing a blood-red stain on a black background.

Congress, criticised by the BJP about national security for the past few weeks, shot back: “20 days of false campaigning cannot replace 10 years of development. Your decision”.