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Thursday, September 16, 1999 Published at 15:33 GMT 16:33 UK


World: South Asia

Fears over Kashmir turnout

Police clash with demonstrators in Srinagar

By Altaf Hussein in Srinagar

Polling is being held in the Baramullah-Kupwara parliamentary constituency in Indian-administered Jammu and Kashmir on Saturday, but there are real fears the majority of people may not take part.

Kupwara town is nicknamed the "cantonment" due to the very heavy presence of military and paramilitary forces.

Yet no more than 300 people turned up for an election rally addressed by the state chief minister, Farooq Abdullah, earlier this week.

Local residents said most people in the rally had been brought from outside the town.

But the scene was no different at Handwara town later in the day.

Almost the same number of people turned up to hear Mr Abdullah, amid allegations that they had been brought from outside too.

The opposition candidates have not attracted any big crowds either.

People in all major towns in the constituency say they are in no mood to vote.

Observers say the near total boycott of polling in Srinagar constituency on 5 September is likely to influence the poll scene in Baramullah and Anantnag.

Moreover, Kupwara district has been the worst-affected by separatist violence in recent weeks.

This is an inducement for the supporters of the election boycott called by the separatist parties, and also a discouragement for those who would like to vote.

The state police chief, Gubachan Jagat, says adequate arrangements have been made for policing the polls.

But will the security forces force the people to vote?

There were fewer instances of coercive polling in Srinagar this time round than in the previous three elections.

But the overwhelming response to the boycott call has caused embarrassment to the Indian Government.



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