Turnout high in Kashmir polls despite protests
By AIJAZ HUSSAIN,Associated Press Writer AP - Monday, November 24
SRINAGAR, India - Turnout was high for a second round of voting in Indian Kashmir on Sunday despite boycott calls by Muslim separatists and clashes in some towns between angry protesters and security forces, officials said.
As in the first round, enthusiastic voters waited in long lines to cast their ballots in many areas.
"I'm exercising my right and we need to have our own government that will address our issues," said first-time voter Owais Ahmed Mir, 20.
Turnout was about 65 percent of eligible voters in the six districts where balloting took place, government official Masood Samoon said.
But it varied from district to district. In some Muslim-dominated areas, turnout was so low that paramilitary soldiers and police outnumbered voters.
Separatists say the elections will only entrench New Delhi's hold on the restive region. More than 30 leaders who called for an election boycott have been detained in recent days under a law that allows police to hold people for up to two years without trial.
"India is holding these elections under occupation, curfews, detentions and crackdowns," said Mirwaiz Umar Farooq, who has been under house arrest for 10 days. "Whatever the turnout, no election under these conditions can be a legitimate exercise."
In Kurhama, a village 19 miles (30 kilometers) north of Srinagar, the region's main city, hundreds of angry protesters threw rocks at a polling station and clashed with government soldiers.
Police and paramilitary soldiers swung batons to drive away the protesters, a police official said. The violence temporarily halted voting at the polling booth, he said on condition of anonymity in keeping with department policy.
Anti-election protests were also reported in four other villages, the police official said. There were no reports of injuries.
The elections for the state legislature started Nov. 17 and are to be held in seven phases through Dec. 24. The staggered balloting allows the government to deploy thousands of security forces in each area in an attempt to prevent a repeat of deadly violence during 2002 elections and thwart separatist efforts to enforce the poll boycott.
Thousands of paramilitary soldiers and police officers wearing bulletproof jackets and carrying automatic weapons patrolled as the polling took place Sunday in towns north of Srinagar.
Tension in the region heightened after government forces opened fire at an anti-election protest on Saturday, killing two Muslim protesters including a teenage student.
Overnight, protesters threw rocks at a motorcade carrying a prominent pro-Indian politician, wounding three of her guards, police said.
The polls come several months after some of the largest protests against Indian rule in Jammu-Kashmir, the country's only Muslim-majority state. At least 48 people died, most when Indian soldiers opened fire on Muslim demonstrators.
Anti-India sentiment runs deep in Kashmir, where most people favor independence from India or a merger with Pakistan. The region is divided between the two countries and both claim it in its entirety.
Militant separatist groups have been fighting since 1989 to end Indian rule. The uprising and a subsequent Indian crackdown have killed about 68,000 people, most of them civilians.
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