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Sunday, September 5, 1999 Published at 15:55 GMT 16:55 UK

World: South Asia

Voters keep away in Kashmir

Police fired teargas to break up protests by separatists

By South Asia Correspondent Mike Wooldridge in Srinagar

In the first round of the Indian general election there has been an extremely low turnout of voters at many of the polling stations in the troubled Kashmir Valley, although polling has been brisker at some others.

Indian Elections 99
Full results
There had been boycott calls from militant groups and an alliance of Kashmiri separatist parties.

Five people were injured in one outbreak of election-related violence in Kashmir.

Deserted streets

The streets of Srinagar have been largely deserted and the shops shuttered throughout polling day. Many polling stations in Srinagar and out in the countryside have had a similarly deserted look.

[ image: Paramilitary forces kept a tight vigil during voting]
Paramilitary forces kept a tight vigil during voting
At two of the booths at one polling station in the city, not a single vote had been cast after more than seven hours, but the poll boycotters did not have it all their own way.

A polling station in the town of Budgam was one that saw brisker business.

A quarter of those registered had voted by mid-morning, many women among them. Some of them said they were casting their votes to help bring an end to atrocities in Kashmir.

Fear and violence

The polling here was plainly conducted amid much apprehension.

Some complained that the security forces were trying to pressure them into voting.

At one place we visited, they appeared to be giving heavy handed encouragement, but it stopped with our arrival.

The guard accompanying one party activist opened fire as they were trying to persuade people to vote in the village of Birwan and five people were injured.

Kashmir has only a handful of seats in India's parliament but in this election, with the recent conflict on the dividing line between India and Pakistan in Kashmir, it is the issue that could well determine the overall outcome.

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