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Monday, 16 September, 2002, 08:30 GMT 09:30 UK
Kashmir embarks on troubled election
Voter is given identity mark at polling station
Turnout is reported to be high in some areas
There have been sporadic incidents of violence in Indian-administered Kashmir as polling stations opened for the first of four days of voting.

Police commando on duty for election day
A huge security operation is in place
Officials said at least five separatist militants were killed in a clash with the Indian army in the border district of Poonch where voting is taking place on Monday.

Militants had earlier attacked a polling station in Poonch killing one policemen while rockets were fired at another one in Rajouri but no one was injured, officials said.

Early reports suggest a mixed turnout, with high levels of voting in some areas, but apathy and fears of violence thought to be responsible for keeping numbers low elsewhere.

Kashmir's main separatist parties are boycotting the poll, and Islamic militant groups have vowed to disrupt the election and kill anyone taking part.

The election campaign has been overshadowed by a surge in violence by militants.

Two candidates - one the state's law minister - have been killed during campaigning, and on Sunday the state's tourism minister escaped an attempt on her life.

The head of India's independent Election Commission, JM Lyngdoh, said that tight security arrangements were in place for the election, and there was nothing to fear.

But hours before the polls opened, army sources said Indian troops had killed 11 suspected Islamic rebels in a fierce gun battle near the Line of Control.


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 J M Lyngdoh

Five rebels were also reported killed in the southern Surankote area, and an Indian policeman died in a pre-dawn rebel raid on a polling station in Poonch district.

Earlier, suspected separatist militants attempted to murder state tourism minister Sakina Itoo.

Mrs 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.

Threats

Polling began at 0700 local time (0130 GMT) in 25 constituencies, with three more days of voting spread over several weeks.

An artist finishes a poster of PDP candidate Ashok Kazuria
The candidates do not include main separatist groups
The recent conflict between India and Pakistan has increased the international focus on Kashmir.

Indian army officials say Pakistan and militants based in Kashmir are using terror to try to sabotage the elections. Pakistan denies any involvement.

However, Islamabad has dismissed the elections themselves as a rigged farce.

Voter turnout

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

In the past, turnout has been very low.

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

Electronic polling is being used in some places, in an attempt to counter vote-rigging claims - although problems with the machines delayed the start of voting in Sangrama, outside Srinagar.

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 BBC's Daniel Lak in Kashmir says India wants to use the elections to show the world that democracy can solve even the thorniest of problems.

Final results are expected on 11 October.

 WATCH/LISTEN
 ON THIS STORY
The BBC's Jill McGivering in Kashmir
"Many who did vote said they want change"
The BBC's Daniel Lak in Srinagar
"The task in front of the election officials is huge"
President of National Conference Omar Abdullah
"Whatever we achieve will only be through concensus"
Click here fror background reports and analysis

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See also:

15 Sep 02 | South Asia
14 Sep 02 | South Asia
17 Sep 02 | South Asia
13 Sep 02 | South Asia
12 Sep 02 | South Asia
12 Sep 02 | South Asia
13 Sep 02 | South Asia
15 Sep 02 | South Asia
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