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At least 9 die in Jakarta bomb blasts

BOMB blasts ripped through two luxury hotels in the heart of Indonesia's capital of Jakarta yesterday, killing at least nine people and wounding dozens of others.

Suicide bombers targeted the JW Marriott, scene of a car-bomb attack in 2003, and the Ritz-Carlton, both popular hotels with international business people and thought to boast some of the tightest security in Jakarta.

The attackers, who checked in as guests, smuggled explosives into the Marriott and assembled the bombs in a room on the 18th floor, where an unexploded device was found after the blasts.

"They had been using the room as their command post," Police Chief General Bambang Hendarso Danuri told reporters.

At least 18 foreigners were among the dead and wounded. Included in the tally were at least eight Americans who sustained injuries.

A visibly upset President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono, re-elected this month on the back of improved security and a healthier economy, told a news conference that the bombings were the act of a terrorist group bent on damaging the country.

"I am sure most of us are deeply concerned, feel very sorry, and are crying silently, like the way I am feeling," he said, adding the perpetrators were "laughing and cheering with anger and hatred."

The president said the attacks would have a wide impact on the country's economy, business climate, tourism and image on the world stage.

Indonesian financial markets fell after the blasts, with the rupiah down 0.7 percent at 10,200 to the US dollar, prompting state banks to sell greenbacks to support the currency, traders said.

Indonesian stocks were down 2 percent.

The apparently coordinated bombings are the first in several years and follow a period in which the government had made progress in tackling security threats from militant Islamic groups, bringing a sense of political stability to Southeast Asia's biggest economy.

Suspicion is likely to fall on the Jemaah Islamiah militant group, blamed for the previous Marriott attack as well as bombings on Bali in 2002 that killed 202 people.

"The attack is particularly severe for investor confidence because it has affected the hotels that are seen to be among the most secure in Jakarta and also either killed or wounded numerous prominent expatriate business people," said Kevin O'Rourke, a political risk analyst in Jakarta.

According to police, casualties included citizens of Indonesia, the US, Australia, South Korea, the Netherlands, Italy, Britain, Canada, Norway, Japan and India.

The Manchester United soccer team said it had cancelled the Jakarta leg of an Asian tour.

A Ritz-Carlton employee said the team had been due to stay at the hotel ahead of a game in Indonesia early next week.

Witnesses said the bombings at the Marriott and the Ritz-Carlton were minutes apart and occurred inside hotel restaurants during breakfast.

At the Ritz-Carlton, torn curtains flapped around broken windows and glass lay around the hotel.

There was blood on the street across from the Marriott. The hotels are near each other in an area home to offices, embassies and bars.

Parliamentary elections in April and the presidential poll this month had passed peacefully.

"I would say it damages foreign investor confidence since the attacks appear aimed at Westerners, but does not shatter it, so long as there is no further violence for some time," said Sean Callow, currency strategist at Westpac Bank in Sydney.


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