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Sunday, 15 September, 2002, 11:35 GMT 12:35 UK
Kashmir minister escapes ambush
Crowded buses carry supporters of the ruling National Conference campaign
Buses carry supporters of the ruling National Conference
In Indian Kashmir, suspected separatist militants have attempted to murder the state tourism minister while she was campaigning in forthcoming elections.

Sakina Itoo was campaigning in her home constituency of Damhal Hanjipora in southern Kashmir when her convoy hit a landmine.

Police say gunmen lying in wait then ambushed the vehicles and opened fire.

Mrs Itoo was not hurt, but two members of the security forces were killed.

Tight security

An artist finishes a poster of candidate Ashok Kazuria
An artist finishes a poster of a P D P candidate
The attack came as the chief of India's independent Election Commission told journalists in Delhi that tight security arrangements were in place and voters had nothing to fear.

Voting in state elections starts on Monday, but campaigning has been overshadowed by a surge in violence by militants opposed to the process.

They are opposed to Indian administration in Kashmir and are pressing local people to boycott the polls.

Threats

They have threatened to kill anyone taking part.

In the campaign period two candidates have so far been murdered, including the state law minister.


I also need to assure you that the security forces are there in great number and in high alert to protect you

Chief Election Commissioner JM Lyngdoh to voters
India is eager to see a high turnout in these elections.

The recent conflict between India and Pakistan has increased the international focus on Kashmir.

Voter turnout

Many foreign diplomats have come to witness the process as unofficial observers.

In the past, turnout has been abysmal.

Previous elections have also been marred by allegations of vote-rigging and coercion by the security forces, as well as militant violence.

Now India wants to enhance its credibility by showing it can deliver real democracy.

Some people are optimistic that these elections could prove a turning-point and participation could be notably greater.

But others fear public disillusionment, opposition to Indian administration, and this climate of on-going violence could all deter voters.

The elections will be staggered over several weeks, with final results expected on October 11th.

 WATCH/LISTEN
 ON THIS STORY
The BBC's Jill McGivering
"It's hard to have a credible democracy in such a climate of violence"
Click here fror background reports and analysis

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14 Sep 02 | South Asia
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