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Page last updated at 12:01 GMT, Thursday, 30 April 2009 13:01 UK

Indians vote in key third phase

A soldier stands guard as voters queue up at a polling station in Lalgarh in West Bengal on April 30, 2009
Voters defied a Maoist boycott call in Lalgarh in West Bengal state

Voting has ended in India in the third of five stages of the country's marathon general election.

Millions cast ballots in 107 constituencies across nine states and two federal territories, including the financial capital, Mumbai (Bombay).

The BBC's Sanjoy Majumder in Delhi says it is a crucial day for the two national parties which went head-to-head in many areas voting.

A good showing for either will put them in a strong position on results day.

Congress leader Sonia Gandhi and BJP prime ministerial candidate LK Advani were among candidates whose seats were holding voting in the third phase.

Results are due on 16 May and no party is expected to win a clear majority.

'Make or break'

Voters in the states of Bihar, Gujarat, Jammu and Kashmir, Karnataka, Madhya Pradesh, Maharashtra, Sikkim, Uttar Pradesh and West Bengal cast ballots on Thursday.

INDIAN ELECTION AT A GLANCE
Eligible voters: 714 million
Polling centres: 828,804
Voting days: 16, 23, 30 April; 7, 13 May
Vote counting: 16 May

Voting was also held in the federally-administered territories of Dadra and Nagar Haveli, and Daman and Diu.

Mrs Gandhi is standing in Rae Bareli in northern Uttar Pradesh state, while Mr Advani is a candidate in Gandhinagar in the western state of Gujarat.

"Make or break for BJP today," read the Times of India headline. The Hindustan Times said the election had entered a "decisive phase" with the stakes high for both national parties.

Analysts say this phase of voting is crucial for the BJP as the party holds nearly 40 of the 107 seats voting.

Dalit (formerly untouchable) leader Mayawati, who could play a key role in deciding the next government, was among early voters in Uttar Pradesh, as was leading businessman Anil Ambani in Mumbai.

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Karishma Vaswani visits a Mumbai polling station

All 10 constituencies in Mumbai as well as Anantnag in Indian-administered Kashmir are voting on Thursday.

Mumbai was the scene of an armed attack in November which left at least 170 people dead, including nine gunmen.

But correspondents say security is a less important issue for voters than more routine concerns, like access to clean water, electricity and better housing.

In Jammu and Kashmir separatist groups have called for a boycott of the elections and a two-day strike in the Muslim-majority Kashmir valley.

The BBC's Altaf Hussain in Anantnag says turnout in early voting was very low, with no people at all at some polling stations.

In communist-ruled West Bengal state, brisk polling was reported in all 14 parliamentary constituencies holding voting, the BBC's Subir Bhaumik in Calcutta says.

BBC INDIA ELECTION TRAIN
Soutik Biswas
For the poor of Mumbai the vote still holds out the promise of better times

Officials say the only exception is Lalgarh on the state's border with Jharkhand where a tribal organisation, allegedly backed by Maoist rebels, is enforcing a boycott call to protest against alleged police atrocities, our correspondent reports.

Meanwhile, a suspected Maoist landmine attack on a polling centre in the state's Purulia district has left two people, including a policeman, injured.

Security

Voting is being held in several phases in some of the states.

The first round on 16 April was marred by Maoist attacks in eastern and central India which killed at least 17 people. The second phase on 23 April saw less violence.

About two million security personnel are being deployed over the five-phase vote.

Votes will be counted on 16 May and the new parliament has to be constituted by 2 June.

The incumbent coalition, led by the Congress party, and parties led by the BJP are battling a host of smaller parties.

If no group wins a clear majority, the smaller regional parties could play a crucial role.


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