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Monday, 15 January, 2001, 18:56 GMT
Kashmir votes amid tight security
Soldier checking car
Extra checks were made in areas where polling took place
Voting has taken place in Indian-administered Kashmir in the state's first village elections for more than 20 years.

Polling went smoothly - despite threats from Muslim separatist groups, election officials reported.

Map
The Hizbul Mujahideen militant group has described the vote as a conspiracy to undermine the Kashmir separatist movement.

On Sunday, the group said it had carried out a grenade attack on the Chief Minister of Jammu and Kashmir, Farooq Abdullah. He escaped unhurt.

High turnout

India's state TV broadcaster, Doordarshan, said turnout had been high - 80% in some areas.

People voted for 125 village councils in three Kashmiri districts - Poonch, Rajouri and Kupwara - in the first stage of several weeks of state-wide polling.

Security was tight in all areas.

Farooq Abdullah
Narrow escape for Chief Minister Abdullah
The voting is taking place amid fresh hopes of an end to the ongoing violence in the region.

A leading Kashmiri separatist alliance, the All Party Hurriyat [Freedom] Conference, is due to leave for Pakistan to hold talks with the government and Kashmiri militants based there.

It follows a ceasefire offer by the Indian Government which began in November and is currently in place.

In response, Pakistan has scaled back its troops from positions along the Line of Control which divides the two armies in Kashmir.

Past violence

In the past, elections in Kashmir have been disrupted by violence, with militants calling for a boycott and security forces attempting to allow voting to go ahead - often forcibly.

Until now, turnout has generally been low.

The last village council elections in Indian-administered Kashmir were held in 1977.

Opposition parties have accused the ruling National Conference party of trying to sabotage the peace process by holding the current polls.

But the state government says it is only honouring a promise it made to devolve power to the grassroots.

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See also:

14 Jan 01 | South Asia
Assassination bid fails in Kashmir
04 Oct 99 | South Asia
Blasts affect Kashmir polling
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