Violence mars Jammu and Kashmir’s fifth phase of elections, one killed (Roundup)

December 13th, 2008 - 8:12 pm ICT by IANS  

Srinagar/Jammu, Dec 13 (IANS) Voting ended Saturday evening for the fifth phase in Jammu and Kashmir’s staggered elections that was marred by violence as anti-poll protesters clashed with police, resulting in the death of a protester in police firing. Polling was held in 11 constituencies - six in Shopian and Pulwama districts in the Kashmir Valley and five in Jammu region’s Kathua district. Around 40 percent voters exercised their franchise in Kashmir Valley while 55 percent did in Jammu region, according to latest reports.

“The percentages are likely to go up when we get the final figures,” a poll official said here.

People have turned up in large numbers to vote, registering an average of more than 60 percent, in the earlier four phases of the seven-phased polling in the strategic border state, ignoring poll boycott calls by separatists. The first phase was held Nov 17, and it will end Dec 24.

Results will be known on Dec 28.

In Saturday’s balloting, anti-poll protests were witnessed in three villages of south Kashmir’s Pulwama district - Koil, Pahu and Karimabad.

A protester, identified as Muzammil, was killed and two others injured in Koil village where security forces opened fire at stone pelting protesters. Two critically injured protesters have been admitted to a Srinagar hospital.

“Ten security men were also injured when protesters resorted to heavy stone pelting on the security men in Koil,” a police officer said here.

Though voting started on a low key in Wachi, Tral, Shopian, Pulwama, Pampore and Rajpora constituencies in the Valley, by afternoon it picked up as voters came out in fairly good numbers to exercise their franchise.

Among the 113 candidates in the fray in south Kashmir is Mehbooba Mufti, the People’s Democratic Party (PDP) president, who is contesting from Wachi constituency in Shopian district. The main contest is between the PDP and the National Conference (NC), though there are candidates from other parties and independents also in the fray.

The voting percentage in Pampore, Tral, Shopian, Wachi, Rajpora and Pulwama is more than that recorded in the 2002 elections.

The separatists had called for a total poll boycott across the Valley and had also asked people to take out anti-poll marches to the Pulwama and Shopian district headquarters.

In summer capital Srinagar, authorities imposed strict restrictions to prevent the separatists’ anti-poll marches and protests.

Senior separatist leaders including Syed Ali Geelani and Mirwaiz Umer Farooq continued to remain under house arrest in Srinagar though no incident of violence was reported from anywhere in the city.

In Kathua district of Jammu region, brisk polling was reported in all the five constituencies.

“Till 3 p.m., around 40 percent voting was recorded. The percentage is expected to go up,” an election official there said.

In Kathua district, there are 66 candidates in the fray in the five constituencies of Bani, Basohli, Billawar, Hiranagar and Kathua.

The main contest is between the National Conference and the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) though the Congress has also fielded candidates in all the five seats.

Despite the winter chill, people came out in large numbers to vote.

In Hiranagar, villagers arrived in their best clothes to vote. “It is a sacred day,” said Vimal Gupta, a farmer.

“We have many problems. The condition of the roads is particularly bad, but we do hope that this election will lead to an improvement in the situation,” he said.

Despite apprehension that the stiff competition could provoke clashes among the supporters of the candidates, the polling went off smoothly.

Only one protest was witnessed in Kalibari area of Kathua constituency. More than 1,000 people staged a sit in on the Pathankote-Jammu highway to protest the delay in the opening of the polling station due to snags in the electronic voting machines.

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