Clashes mar new phase of Kashmir election

December 08, 2008


SRINAGAR, Dec 7: People voted in several towns in occupied Kashmir on Sunday, while Kashmiris in other areas boycotted the polls and clashed with Indian forces in the fourth phase of elections in the disputed Himalayan region.

Anti-India leaders have called for a boycott of the vote, saying it will only entrench India’s hold on the region.

Some have been detained in recent months under a law that allows police to detain people for up to two years without trial.

Thousands of paramilitary soldiers and police wearing bulletproof jackets and carrying automatic weapons patrolled polling places across the region. The staggered balloting allows the government to deploy thousands of personnel in each area in an attempt to prevent violence.

Protesters demonstrated on Sunday outside polling places in Sopore, a town 50km northwest of Srinagar.

Police and paramilitary soldiers fired gunshots into the air and lobbed tear gas to drive them away, a police officer said on condition of anonymity in keeping with department policy.

Anti-election protests were also reported in the nearby town of Baramulla and seven other villages in the region, the police officer said.

In one clash, at least six photographers, including one from The Associated Press, were injured by baton-swinging police. Kashmir’s police chief, B. Srinivas, said he regretted the incident, adding that police would investigate.

Journalists were later stopped from travelling to the polling areas.

Some 1.4 million of the region’s roughly 6.5 million eligible voters live in the areas where voting took place on Sunday. Turnout was not immediately available, but in some towns there were long lines of voters.

The polling on Sunday came after some of the largest protests against Indian occupation in decades. At least 48 people died in weeks of protests in the summer, mostly when Indian soldiers opened fire on demonstrators.