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Friday, September 17, 1999 Published at 16:10 GMT 17:10 UK

World: South Asia

Bihar braced for poll violence

Elections in Bihar have been met with boycotts and violence

The home secretary of the violence-prone eastern Indian state of Bihar, Umesh Narayan Panjiar, says that extra security forces have been deployed to "ensure free and fair polling" on Saturday.

Indian Elections 99
Full results
The authorities are determined to prevent the kind of violence that left 44 dead during last year's general election.

In an additional security measure Bihar was sealed off from the rest of the country on Friday, as security forces, under orders to shoot on sight, got ready for the first round of voting in the state.

An Election Commission directive says that Bihar's borders with Nepal and the neighbouring Indian states of Uttar Pradesh, Madhya Pradesh, Orissa and Bengal must be sealed off before each polling day, to restrict the movement of party agitators.

[ image: Bihar home secretary Panjiar: 70% of polling stations are
Bihar home secretary Panjiar: 70% of polling stations are "extra sensitive"
Mr Panjiar said that security personnel had been ordered to shoot on sight in the event of attempts to "capture" polling booths by party activists or left-wing guerrillas.

Two extremist groups, the Maoist Communist Centre and the People's War Group, have threatened violence to enforce their separate calls to boycott polling.

Nearly 47,000 paramilitary forces and policemen are guarding more than 29,000 polling stations in the state.

Voting in Bihar's 54 constituencies has been staggered over three days at one week intervals, allowing the security forces to concentrate their resources more effectively.

[ image: The
The "booth capturers" are well prepared
Campaigning for the Bihar polls has been relatively peaceful, although six electoral officers were abducted from a southern constituency on Thursday night by suspected left-wing guerrillas.

Bihar, with 54 seats, is second only to Uttar Pradesh in electing the largest number of MPs to India's 545-member parliament, making it a significant electoral power base.

India's two main national parties, the Hindu-nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party of Prime Minister Atal Behari Vajpayee and the opposition Congress party, led by Sonia Gandhi, have each joined forces with rival regional parties to fight the polls in Bihar.

Bihar is not the only state with enhanced security ahead of this week's round of voting - thousands of police, reservists and soldiers also took up positions in constituencies in Uttar Pradesh, Andhra Pradesh, Madhya Pradesh and in Jammu and Kashmir.

Separatists in Indian-administered Kashmir, who have called for an election boycott, disrupted voting in the first two rounds.

Police in the state say the separatists shot dead a governing party activist and fired rockets at the home of a state lawmaker on Friday.

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