Moderate turnout in Jharkhand amid Maoist attacks (Fourth lead)

April 16th, 2009 - 6:23 pm ICT by IANS  

Ranchi, April 16 (IANS) Jharkhand witnessed a moderate voter turnout of 45-50 percent in the first phase of elections Thursday amid violence by the Maoist rebels who killed nine people in a landmine blast and abducted 11 poll officials.
The officials said that six Lok Sabha constituencies in the state saw around 50 percent voting but the final tally could go up as details from all the polling booths come in. The polling in all six constituencies was rescheduled between 7 a.m. and 3 p.m.

“Barring a few incidents, the polling was by and large peaceful. We are keeping our fingers crossed till the polling officials and the security forces are back to their barracks or homes safely. The returning officials are more vulnerable,” S.N. Pradhan, Jharkhand police spokesperson, told IANS.

Maoists stepped up attacks on the security forces and polls officials in the state. On Thursday morning nine people, including seven Border Security Force (BSF) troopers, were killed near Arah village of Latehar district in a landmine blast triggered by the rebels.

“Seven BSF personnel were killed in a landmine blast in a jungle near Aara village. Police officials have rushed there to assess the situation,” Sarvendu Tathagat, Latehar district deputy commissioner, told IANS by phone.

Maoist rebels detonated the landmine when the BSF personnel were going in a bus to a polling station near Aara village, about 140 km from here.

The driver and his assistant were also killed, Pradhan said.

After the blast, the guerrillas ambushed the para-military personnel. A gun battle followed between the rebels and security forces.

Maoists also abducted 11 polling officials from two places in the state.

Seven polling officials were forcibly taken at Banuha village of Gumla district. Three of them were later released but four are still in captivity of the rebels.

In another incident, four polling officials, who were overseeing the elections at Hata polling centre, around 140 km from here, were abducted by the Maoists.

Rebels have reportedly taken the officials to a thickly forested area of the district. They also took away the electronic voting machines (EVMs) from the polling station, police said.

At least in two polling centres, in Khuti and Lohardaga districts, Maoists rebels burnt the EVM machines. The rebels also disrupted polling at six other stations in the state.

In Hazaribagh’s Gola block, the Congress and All Jharkhand Students Union (AJSU) workers clashed. At least four people were injured in the clash, police said.

The fate of the 85 candidates for the six seats has been decided by 7,068,696 voters. There are 9,953 polling stations and 1,800 observers for the polls.

Officials said around 62,000 security personnel, including 8,000 central paramilitary force troopers, were deployed in the state for the first phase. The police also used five helicopters for air surveillance.

The next phase of election for the state’s eight Lok Sabha Seats will be held April 23.

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