At least 14 killed in Kashmiri election violence

 

INDIA: A teenager and a policeman have been killed and two other people injured in Jammu and Kashmir's state assembly elections in attacks by Muslim militants. Terror campaign and reprisal threats led to a moderate voter turnout in the war-torn region yesterday. Twelve militants aiming to disrupt voting also died in firefights with the security forces.

"Who will protect us from militants when the security forces move away?" asked Mr Ghulam Rasool Butt, a building contractor in Sopore, 30 miles north of Indian-administered Kashmir's summer capital, Srinagar.

Until two hours before voting closed at 4 p.m. local time, no ballots had been cast in several heavily guarded polling booths in the town that is the headquarters of Kashmir's fundamentalist Jamait- e-Islami or Islamic party which is opposed to democracy. The party decrees that Islam is not only a way of life, but also a complete system of politics, economics and culture.

Polling in nearby Handwara was also dominated by Islamic insurgents waging Kashmir's 13-year civil war for independence was low in the morning and plunged further after militants triggered two land mines at the Shahlala polling booth injuring two. Under heavy paramilitary escort, the authorities shifted the polling booth next to an army camp two miles away.

"I do not want to put myself at risk and vote," shopkeeper Mohammad Shafi Malik said. The militants were everywhere and would wreak vengeance on anyone who defies their decree, he added.

Islamic militants and separatist Kashmir politicians claim the elections are rigged and have called for a boycott of the vote in India's only Muslim-majority state. The rebels - whom India claims are supported by Pakistan which occupies a third of Kashmir and claims the rest - have killed more than 305 people after elections were announced last month, 25 of them political workers, including a state minister assassinated last week.

The staggered polls end on October 8th and the results will be announced two days later.

Election Commission officials said the 44 per cent voter turnout for 23 of 87 assembly seats was "satisfactory " given the high level of voter intimidation. "Polling was far better than my expectations," according to state chief electoral officer Pramod Jain, adding that security was good and no polling irregularities had been reported.

More than 160,000 police and paramilitary personnel ringed polling booths and patrolled constituencies with another 350,000 soldiers in reserve. Sixteen military helicopters watched over Kashmir's skies while dozens of South African mine-protection vehicles were deployed in militant-infested areas as protection against improvised explosive devices. Villagers said the army, in proclamations from local mosques, assured them of "adequate protection" and urged them to vote "fearlessly".

About 21 of 105 contestants in yesterday's election were either former militants or those who enjoyed the tacit supported of various terrorist and fundamentalist organisations.