Low turnout in Jharkhand as Maoist violence kills nine (Second Lead)

April 16th, 2009 - 2:25 pm ICT by IANS  

Bharatiya Janata Party Ranchi, April 16 (IANS) Maoist violence that killed nine people appeared to have created fear among Jharkhand’s voters as a low turnout was witnessed in the first four hours in the six of the state’s 14 Lok Sabha constituencies where polling was underway in the first phase of the general elections Thursday.
Nine people including seven Border Security Force (BSF) personnel going for polling duty were killed in a landmine blast triggered by Maoist rebels in the state’s Latehar district.

The rebels detonated the landmine when the BSF personnel were travelling in a bus to a polling station near Aara village, about 140 km from the state capital, two hours before polling was to begin. After the blast, the guerrillas fired on the BSF bus, leading to a gunbattle between the rebels and security forces.

The bus driver and his assistant were also killed instantly.

After the mine exploded, the Maoists opened fire at the bus, triggering a gun battle that ended on a bloody note.

The incident took place near a jungle near Aara village, Sarvendu Tathagat, the Latehar district deputy police commissioner, told IANS over telephone.

There were two other gun battles between security forces and Maoists in Jharkhand’s Khuti and Palamau districts, disrupting voting in both places, police spokesman K.N. Pradhan said.

Meanwhile, four people were injured when activists of the Congress and the All Jharkhand Students Union (AJSU) clashed with each other in Hazaribagh’s Gola block.

Polling began at 7 a.m. and till 11 a.m. the polling percentage varied between nine and 21 percent in different Lok Sabha seats. According to an election commission official, the lowest turnout was in Chatra with only nine percent voting recorded till 11 a.m.

In Koderma, the voting percentage was 10 percent, in Khuti, it was 11 percent, while in Hazaribagh, Palamau and Lohardagga, the percentage varied between 17 and 21 percent. In Hazaribagh, former central minister and Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) candidate Yashwant Sinha had come to cast his vote.

Polling will end at 3 p.m.

The fate of the 85 candidates in the fray for the six seats will be decided by 7,068,696 voters. There are 9,953 polling stations and 1,800 observers. Apart from Sinha, the key candidates include former central minister Karia Munda fighting on a BJP ticket from Khuti and the state’s first chief minister and Jharkhand Vikas Morcha-Prajatantrik (JVM-P) president Babulal Marandi from Koderma.

Officials said around 62,000 security personnel, including 8,000 central paramilitary force troopers, have been deployed in the state for the first phase, in view of the Maoists’ call for boycott of the polls and threat of dire consequences to those who vote.

Police are also using five helicopters for air surveillance.

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