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Kashmiri Voters Head to Polls for State Elections

Electoral officials said 44 percent of the 1.5 million registered voters in the region headed to polls that were characterized in media reports as “fortress like” due to tight security. Hundreds of thousands of police and security forces were deployed amid fears of attacks by separatist militants who had threatened to kill anyone participating in the voting process.

But bursts of violence related to the day’s voting were few. Indian security forces said they killed a number of Islamic separatists attempting to cross the border into Indian-controlled territory from Pakistan and disrupt voting. In addition, a bomb blast at a polling station in the village of Shalal wounded two men.

The path to Monday’s elections has been a bloody one — Islamic militants fighting Indian rule in favor of independence or union with Pakistan have been accused of killing nearly 100 political activists this year, according to the Associated Press. Since 1989, violence in the region has left an estimated 60,000 people dead.

For its part, the government of Pakistan summarily rejected the elections and dismissed Indian accusations of sabotage.

“The people of Kashmir have rejected those elections,” Indian foreign ministry spokesman Aziz Ahmed told a news conference Monday.

Militant groups called for a boycott of the legislative elections, claiming that the Indian military was intimidating voters into going to the polls in an effort by India’s government to strengthen its rule over the only Muslim majority region in a mainly Hindu nation.

“The army security forces and police entered into the villages and coerced people to vote, ” Abdul Ghani Bhat, chairman of Kashmir’s main separatist alliance, the All Parties Hurriyat Conference, said.

India’s Deputy Election Commissioner Sayan Chatterjee said the government was “satisfied” with the turnout, which surpassed the 35 percent participation many officials anticipated.

Indian electoral analyst Mahesh Rangarajan told Reuters that observers shouldn’t read too much into the turnout for an election held in “very usual circumstances.”

“One, the climate of fear and intimidation from armed groups; and two, the general view that people have not been forced to vote by the security forces is a positive sign for democracy,” Rangarajan told the news service.

With Monday’s voting completed, officials can start planning for the next phase of elections for the 87-member legislative assembly, with voting planned for Sept. 24, Oct. 1 and Oct. 8.

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