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Tuesday, 1 October, 2002, 13:25 GMT 14:25 UK
Kashmir polls close on violent note
A soldier on guard outside a polling station
Troops are guarding polling stations
Polls have closed in the third stage of state elections in Indian-administered Kashmir at the end of a day of violent attacks by militants.

Electoral officers sealed the voting machines after a nine-hour ballot in the districts of Anantnag, Pulwama, Udhampur and Kathua.

The Election Commission said all of the 2,045 polling booths had been classed as "sensitive" or "hypersensitive" because of the risk of militant attacks.

Six soldiers were killed when a landmine laid by suspected militants exploded as the troops escorted electoral staff from voting stations after polls had closed.

This followed a number of attacks by suspected militants across the region overnight and during the day, and voter turn out varied from area to area.

Final figures on voter turn out are expected later on Tuesday.

Continuing violence

Polling was marred by a number of violent clashes on Tuesday.

Three gunmen flagged down a bus near the southern town of Hiranagar before opening fire and hurling grenades inside.

At least nine people were killed and more than 10 injured in the attack and gun battle which followed between the suspected militants and security officials.

Kashmiri supporters of the Congress Party
Indian authorities say they are happy with the voter turnout in earlier rounds

In the Anantnag district, pre-election violence continued with rocket and grenade attacks on polling stations where voters were expected to cast ballots for representatives to the state assembly.

Polls across Kashmir opened on Tuesday with more than 45,000 extra troops deployed to guard voters after a violent election campaign which saw six people killed in assassination attempts on candidates.

Kashmiri separatist groups are boycotting the elections for 27 seats and militants have threatened to kill anyone who takes part.

But on the eve of voting, Indian Prime Minister Atal Behari Vajpayee hailed the election as a turning point on the road to peace for the disputed region which brought nuclear-armed India and Pakistan to the brink of war earlier this year.

Early-morning carnage

The violence continued in the early morning when two or three gunmen - possibly masquerading as police officers - waved to the driver of a bus on the main road from Delhi to stop.

They then opened fire and threw grenades into the bus which was carrying about 30 passengers.

There have also been other reports of shootings as the polls opened.

The chief electoral officer for Indian-administered Kashmir, Pramod Jain, said: "There are some apprehensions voiced by various quarters about the possibility of violence.

"Adequate forces are being deployed which are both visible and dominating," he added.

Two of the four districts going to the polls - Anantnag and Pulwama in the Kashmir Valley - have witnessed particularly extensive violence in the run-up to the vote.

Vote hopes

Indian officials have expressed satisfaction at the turnout in the first two phases of the polls, saying the threats of violence had failed to cause significant disruption.

Four districts going to polls on Tuesday
Correspondents say India hopes the four-round poll - which ends next week - will quell growing protests against its rule of the region.

Neighbouring Pakistan has denounced the vote as a poor substitute for the plebiscite it wants for the people of Kashmir to decide between Pakistani and Indian sovereignty.

But Indian authorities will view a successful vote as a chance to demonstrate that a degree of normality prevails in the disputed territory.

Results are expected by mid-October.

 WATCH/LISTEN
 ON THIS STORY
The BBC's Satish Jacob
"Tension is now running very high and thousands of soldiers are stationed at polling booths"
The BBC's Altaf Hussein in Srinagar:
"There has been a lot of violence"
Click here fror background reports and analysis

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See also:

30 Sep 02 | South Asia
24 Sep 02 | South Asia
21 Sep 02 | South Asia
15 Sep 02 | South Asia
20 Sep 02 | South Asia
14 Sep 02 | South Asia
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