Voting underway in Srinagar, Jammu amid tension, chill (Lead)

December 24th, 2008 - 11:56 am ICT by IANS  

Srinagar/Jammu, Dec 24 (IANS) Voting was underway in Srinagar Wednesday in the last phase of the Jammu and Kashmir assembly polls amid palpable tension due to a separatist call for a poll boycott and a protest march. The state’s winter capital Jammu and its adjacent Samba district also saw voters trickling in on a chilly winter morning.Streets in Srinagar were deserted and there was little movement of vehicles or pedestrians, especially in Srinagar’s old city areas.

In the eight constituencies of Idgah, Batmaloo, Amira Kadal, Habba Kadal, Zadibal, Sonawar, Hazrtabal and Khanyar, all of which fall in Srinagar district, authorities have stopped the movement of all people and vehicles except those of poll officials and security forces.

The joint coordination committee of the separatist Hurriyat Conference has called for a total boycott of the polls and a protest march Wednesday to the city centre Lal Chowk.

“Nobody would be allowed to create a law and order problem anywhere in the city and those trying to disturb peace here would be dealt with in accordance with the law,” a police officer told IANS in Srinagar.

The old city constituencies of Khanyar, Idgah, Zadibal and Habba Kadal are believed to be the strongholds of the separatists and no voters were seen at the polling stations early Wednesday despite heavy deployment of police and paramilitary forces to instil confidence among people.

“We expect voting to pick up gradually throughout the city,” a poll official said.

Voters, however, came out in small numbers in areas on the city outskirts like Chatterhama, Khonmoh and other places in Mehjoor Nagar and Chanpora.

With 393 contestants, the seventh and final phase has the highest number of candidates since the staggered elections began Nov 17. The star contestant in Srinagar is Farooq Abdullah, who is contesting from two constituencies: Hazratbal and Sonawar.

Ever since the separatist campaign began in 1989, none of the Srinagar constituencies have recorded even 10 percent voting in any election.

It was an unusually chilly morning in the Jammu region, where people trickled in to cast their votes in 13 constituencies in the two districts of Jammu and Samba.

They were hardly any voters when the polling booths opened, but voting picked up as the sun shone down, making the region a little less cold.

Policemen were idling away time early morning at the Government Girls Higher Secondary School in Jammu’s Mubarak Mandi.

“The first voter is yet to come,” said a policeman.

Former chief minister Ghulam Nabi Azad was among the first to cast his vote in the Jammu East constituency.

After he cast his vote along with his wife Shamima Dev Azad, he said: “I am confident that the Congress will form the next government in Jammu and Kashmir on its own.”

At least 25 people had voted in the first 15 minutes at the polling booth.

Congress candidate from Gandhi Nagar Raman Bhalla, who was preparing to move out to cast his vote, said: “The people in city take their own time to vote. Moreover, it is very cold today.”

The sixth round of voting Dec 17 saw 63 percent of the electorate turning out to vote despite freezing temperatures and threats from separatist groups. Votes will be counted Dec 28.

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