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A 56-year-old woman is in critical condition after two operations to treat head injuries she sustained during a violent purse-snatching near the 29th Avenue SkyTrain station in East Vancouver early Tuesday morning.

The woman, who police would not name but described as being of Asian descent, was on her way to work when two men attacked her at 6:15 a.m. She was struck heavily in the head with a blunt object.

The two men, at least one of whom was described as being white with a shaved head, escaped in a white car.

The woman is in the itensive care unit at Vancouver General Hospital, with her husband and grown children at her bedside.

Adrian Dix, the New Democratic MLA for Vancouver-Kensington, called for an increase in transit police and SkyTrain attendants to make the station, which is at 29th Avenue and Slocan Street, more secure at off-peak times. He said it is particularly isolated at those times because it is in a residential area devoid of stores.

"What is clear to me is that it is too much for 120 SkyTrain police to cover [the entire network]for 19 hours a day, seven days a week," he said, adding that he wants a further 60 officers. "There are seven SkyTrain stations in my constituency including this one, and there have been five attacks on women in the past four months. There needs to be a more regular and visible police presence."

Drew Snider of TransLink confirmed that neither attendants nor transit police had been at the station during the attack, but noted that it did not take place inside the station, but "50 to 100 feet [15 to 30 metres]outside."

"You have to take a couple of steps back and say there are people willing to mug a 56-year-old woman wherever the location is if they are desperate enough," he said. "These guys are very brazen. They did it in front of witnesses."

Mr. Snider said the station was due to get an upgrade in its lighting system, which he believed would improve its safety. He added that he did not know whether the TransLink board planned to meet to discuss SkyTrain safety as a result of the attack.

Meanwhile, Vancouver police were out in force early yesterday around the station, interviewing commuters and handing out leaflets. Volunteers from the Collingwood community policing centre also took part, and uniformed officers stopped traffic on 29th Avenue looking for drivers who might have been in the area during the attack and seen something.

Constable Tim Fanning of the Vancouver police said that so far this year there had been 40 purse snatchings throughout the city, including those on or near SkyTrain stations, and 192 in 2006.

"Anywhere were you have lots of people there is a higher probability of crimes against people. . . . We do what we can to police areas where we've seen a spike in crime," he said.

"Our experience in purse snatchings has shown us that with everyone we catch, and we do catch them, it's a serial-type crime by people who are drug addicted and desperate for money. They don't care if they hurt people."

The police are going through CCTV video footage given to them by the transit police, he added.

The 29th Street station was also the scene of three violent muggings over the New Year's weekend.

Three women were clubbed over the head or neck with a piece of metal and their purses were stolen. Frank Siniscalchi, 37, is in custody, charged with robbery in these incidents and a similar mugging near the Nanaimo Street station.