High tension in Srinagar as voting begins

December 24th, 2008 - 10:24 am ICT by IANS  

Srinagar/Jammu, Dec 24 (IANS) Voting in the last phase of the Jammu and Kashmir assembly poll began in eight constituencies of Srinagar Wednesday morning amid palpable tension due to a separatist call for a poll boycott and a protest march. Polling was also underway in the state’s winter capital Jammu and its adjacent Samba district. 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 completely sealed the movement of all people and vehicles except those of poll officials and security forces.

The separatist joint coordination committee has called for a total boycott of the polls and a protest march and sit-in at 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 senior 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 of their homes in small numbers in areas in Srinagar outskirts like Chatterhama, Khonmoh and other places in Mehjoor Nagar and Chanpora areas.

With 393 contestants, the seventh and final phase has the highest number of candidates since the staggered elections began Nov 17. They include 31 women. The star contestant in Srinagar is Farooq Abdullah, who is contesting from two constituencies: Hazratbal and Sonawar.

The difference between victory and defeat in the eight constituencies of Srinagar would depend on voter turnout. Ever since the separatist campaign began, none of these constituencies has recorded even 10 percent voting in any election.

In Jammu region, voters in 13 constituencies in the two districts of Jammu and Samba started voting Wednesday.

Voters started reaching the polling stations early in most of the constituencies of the two districts to exercise their franchise, ingnoring the chill of a winter morning.

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