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Page last updated at 12:29 GMT, Wednesday, 24 December 2008

Clashes mark final Kashmir poll

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Protesters clash with soldiers

Sporadic clashes between protesters and police have marked a seventh and final round of voting in state elections in Indian-administered Kashmir.

At least nine people were hurt when troops baton-charged stone-throwing protesters in Srinagar, police say. Two police were among those injured.

The BBC correspondent in Srinagar says voting was otherwise largely peaceful

Separatists opposed to Indian rule are boycotting the poll saying it serves to legitimise India's presence in Kashmir.

The dispute over Kashmir has been at the heart of tensions between India and Pakistan for decades, and relations between the two countries are currently in crisis following the armed attacks on Mumbai (Bombay) last month which killed more than 170 people.

Turnout

Voting has been staggered over several weeks to allow the authorities to move thousands of members of the security forces from place to place to maintain law and order.

The biggest city in the Kashmir valley, Srinagar, is under unofficial curfew, with security forces posted at every junction.

Protestors shout anti election slogans during a protest outside a polling station in Srinagar

Thousands of police and soldiers armed with assault rifles patrolled deserted streets in the Muslim-majority city and warned residents to stay indoors.

Some roads have been sealed off to prevent people gathering in large numbers to protest against the elections.

Elsewhere in Kashmir the turnout in these elections has been higher than expected, but reports from Srinagar said turnout was low.

At the last state elections fewer than 10% of registered voters in the city went to the polls.

Shops, businesses, government offices and banks remained closed on Wednesday. Most Kashmiris say the restrictions are oppressive and unnecessary.

But the authorities insist there are threats which they have to guard against.

Meharj-u-Din, who turned out to cast his ballot, said he was voting for "better people to rule us".

"I have voted for a candidate who can develop our area," he told the AFP news agency.

But other residents like Idrees Shangloo said they were not casting their votes.

"We are for freedom from India. We will never take part in Indian-held elections," he said.

Arrests

On Tuesday, police arrested three men who they said were planning suicide bomb attacks in the Hindu-majority city of Jammu during polling.

According to the police, one of those detained was a Pakistani army soldier, and all were members of the Jaish-e-Mohammed organisation - a group violently opposed to India's presence in Kashmir.

Pakistan denied the man was a serving soldier.

Violence in Kashmir has decreased recently but militants are still fighting to end India's rule in the portion of Kashmir it controls.

Tens of thousands of people have been killed since 1989, when an armed insurgency against Indian rule began.

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