Page last updated at 15:37 GMT, Tuesday, 20 May 2008 16:37 UK

Toll in violent India poll rises

By Subir Bhaumik
BBC News, Calcutta

Voters queue up for village council elections in West Bengal
This has been one of the most violent elections in India Pic: Sandipan Chatterjee

The death toll in clashes during village council elections in the Indian state of West Bengal has risen to 37, officials say.

The district of Murshidabad, on the border with Bangladesh, was worst affected with 19 deaths.

The deaths were caused by attacks on polling booths or on houses of supporters of rival political parties.

Armed supporters of the ruling Marxists and the opposition have fought pitched battles with bombs and firearms.

Subir Bhadra, a senior official of Murshidabad district, said some villagers died after they were caught in the crossfire.

Murshidabad and the neighbouring district of Maldah, both Muslim-majority districts, are opposition Congress party strongholds.

Maldah saw three more deaths on Tuesday.

The elections have been held in three phases ending on Sunday, but repolling was held for 77 councils on Tuesday, mostly in Murshidabad and Maldah.

'Reign of terror'

Bengal's ruling Marxists appeared determined this time on to wrest as many village councils from the Congress party as possible.

"The Marxists unleashed state terrorism on our people and we had to fight back," alleged Adhir Choudhury, Congress party MP from Murshidabad.

The Marxists accused Choudhury and his supporters of "starting a reign of terror".

Most of those who died were hits by bomb splinters and bullets while standing in the queue to vote.

Police says they anticipate violence during the counting and the declaration of results.

"This election witnessed a free-for-all. In many places , the fight was between the Left and the non-Left but in some places, there was fighting amongst the Left parties," said political analyst Rajat Roy.

"This is perhaps the most vicious village council polls in Bengal in recent memory, because all parties used brute force."

The village councils are source of political power in West Bengal, hence there is more violence during these polls than during those for parliament or the state assembly.

During the one-day 2003 polls, 19 people were killed in clashes.

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