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Kashmir voters defy freezing chill, poll boycott calls


Jammu/Srinagar : Hundreds of thousands defied freezing temperatures and poll boycott call by separatists to vote in the fourth of the seven-phase Jammu and Kashmir elections Sunday.

An estimated 55 percent of the 1.4 million voters in 18 constituencies of the state exercised their franchise peacefully, elections officials said.

Fears of violence in the Valley’s separatist strongholds, which went to polls, turned out to be misplaced as large numbers of people came out to vote.

Barring minor incidents and anti-poll protests, balloting ended peacefully with enthusiastic voters trickling in at a steady pace.

Polling was held in 12 constituencies of Baramulla and Badgam districts in the Kashmir Valley and six in Udhampur and Reasi districts of Jammu region.

Security personnel from the Central Reserve Police Force (CRPF) and the local police were deployed in strength to ensure peaceful polling. The state assembly has 87 seats.

Sopore constituency, the stronghold of hardline separatist leader Syed Ali Shah Geelani, sprang a surprise when at least 14 percent voters exercised their franchise by the end of the day’s polling.

Officials said the turnout may appear low but it was satisfactory given the sway separatists claim to enjoy in the area.

In the 2002 elections, the fear of the militants caused only 8.09 percent voters to turn up for polling in Sopore.

However, in Dooru, Geelani’s ancestral village, there was near total boycott of voting.

As many as 1.4 million people were eligible to vote in the Sunday’s poll for 18 seats.

By the close of polling, Uri constituency in the Valley registered the maximum 71 percent turnout, followed by Charar-e-Sharif (62), Khansahib (61), Gulmarg (60), Pattan (52), Badgam and Chadura (50 each), Beerwah (48), Sangrama (45), Rafiabad (40), Baramulla (25) and Sopore (14).

In the Jammu region, Arnas reported a turnout of 76 percent followed by Reasi with 73, Gulabgarh 70, Udhampur 65, Ramnagar 64 and Chenani 58.

There was no major violence anywhere. In an incident, four photojournalists were hurt when the police were dispersing anti-poll protesters using batons and tear-gas shells in Arampora area in Sopore.

The photographers, who were covering the clash, alleged that the security staff roughed them up. They were taken to a hospital nearby and later referred to Srinagar for better treatment.

Chief Electoral Officer B.R. Sharma regretted the incident and said action would be taken in the case against those responsible.

In Jammu region, there was great enthusiasm to vote just like in the previous three phases of polling. This phase will cover the Hindu majority pockets of Jammu district.

A minor clash between Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) and Congress supporters was reported from Udhampur constituency in the region.

In another incident, 100-odd people blocked the Jammu-Srinagar national highway near Udhampur when they found their names missing from the voters’ lists.

In the Valley, there are 176 candidates, including 13 senior politicians and former ministers, in the fray, while as many as 81 people are fighting it out in Jammu region’s half a dozen constituencies.

Each of the dozen constituencies in the Valley had local factors influencing the voters’ preferences, while there were multi-cornered contests in the Jammu region because of many candidates.