Clashes mar second phase of Kashmir elections
By AIJAZ HUSSAIN,Associated Press Writer AP - 1 hour 37 minutes ago
SRINAGAR, India - Hundreds of angry protesters threw rocks at a polling station and clashed with government soldiers in Indian Kashmir on Sunday during the second phase of state elections.
Police and paramilitary soldiers swung batons to drive away the protesters in Kurhama, a village 19 miles (30 kilometers) north of Srinagar, the region's main city, a police official said.
The violence temporarily halted voting at the polling booth, he said on condition of anonymity in keeping with department policy.
Muslim separatist leaders have called for a boycott of the elections, saying they will only entrench India's hold on the restive region.
Anti-election protests were also reported in four other villages, the police official said. There were no reports of injuries.
In a village near Kurhama, however, scores gathered to vote. "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.
The elections come after some of the largest protests against Indian rule in Jammu-Kashmir, the country's only Muslim-majority state, and a tough crackdown on separatist leaders.
Thousands of paramilitary soldiers and police officers wearing bulletproof jackets and carrying automatic weapons patrolled as polling took place in towns north of the Himalayan region's main city, Srinagar.
In Srinagar, thousands of government forces in riot gear patrolled the streets following a call by separatists for a march to the districts voting Sunday and a general strike Monday.
Srinagar residents said soldiers were not allowing them to come out of their homes. B. Srinivas, a senior police officer, said police were implementing a ban on gatherings of more than five people "to avoid any law and order situation."
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 elections for the state legislature started Nov. 17 and are to be held in seven phases through Dec. 24. The staggered balloting process allows the government to deploy thousands of government forces in each area in an effort to prevent a repeat of deadly violence during 2002 elections and thwart separatist attempts to enforce the poll boycott.
Protests against Indian rule gathered steam in August and September and at least 48 people died, most when Indian soldiers opened fire on Muslim demonstrators. The government has since imposed curfews to prevent more violence.
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.
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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