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At least 8 killed in Srinagar poll violence, voter turnout 6.5 per cent

At least 8 killed in Srinagar poll violence, voter turnout 6.5 per cent

A polling booth in Ganderbal was set ablaze after protesters hurled petrol bombs.

Eight persons were killed and over 50 security men injured in violent clashes Sunday during the by-election to the prestigious Srinagar Lok Sabha seat which saw a voter turnout of only 6.5 per cent, a new low for the seat. The main theatre of stone-pelting and violent protests was Budgam, a district that traditionally records high voter turnout in the Valley. Six protesters were killed at four different places. Two more deaths were reported in the evening — one of a Ganderbal man who succumbed to injuries at the SKIMS Hospital and of an 18-year-old at Barsoo.

A polling booth in Ganderbal was set ablaze after protesters hurled petrol bombs. The Srinagar Lok Sabha seat is spread over three districts — Srinagar, Budgam and Ganderbal — and the main contestants for the seat are Farooq Abdullah, joint candidate of the National Conference and Congress, and Nazir Ahmad Khan, nominee of the ruling PDP. The seat fell vacant after Tariq Hameed Karra of the PDP resigned to protest the crackdown on street protesters last year.

Internet services were down at most places as polling began this morning. By noon, 118 polling stations had already closed. In the evening, official figures put the voter turnout at a record low of 6.5 per cent. “As of now, a little above 80,000 votes were polled which makes it a poll percentage of 6.5,” J&K Chief Electoral Officer Shantmanu told reporters. “(It) is much less than 26 per cent which was the polling percentage in the last election in 2014… not a good day for all of us,” he said.

“There were incidents of stone pelting. Petrol bombs were hurled and a polling booth was set ablaze. EVMs were also damaged in the process but many of these EVMs were received back. There were firing incidents and we lost six lives,” he said. Shantmanu said the Election Commission would take a final call on “what is to be done in those cases where elections were not concluded”.

Unlike the previous years, the festive mood at polling booths was missing. There were no long queues outside booths where youths gathered to raise slogans and protest. At Aripanthan, the home village of PDP candidate Nazir Ahmad Khan, youths collected outside a government building that housed two polling booths and threw stones at paramilitary personnel deployed there. The protest stopped only after the polling staff and securitymen told the protesters that the gates of the polling station would be closed.

“How can they (political parties) expect us to vote,” said Fayaz Ahmad, one of the protesters. “Only six months ago, four youth died in our village,” he said, referring to the crackdown on street protesters last year. In the village of Rathsuna, men and women entered a polling station and tried to snatch an EVM. A 30-year-old was killed and a woman critically injured when security personnel opened fire.

The other deaths took place in Daulatpora in Chadoora, Dalwan village in Chrar-e-Sharief and at Check Kawoosa in Narbal village. Srinagar and Ganderbal districts were relatively peaceful but not many people turned out to vote. At the Government Boys Higher Secondary School in Bemina, only five of 1,541 votes were cast in the first three hours. Voter turnout was also low in the twin towns of Ganderbal and Kangan.

The only departure from the trend was at Lar village in Ganderbal. By 2.30 pm, 492 of 1,215 votes were polled at Lar A while 352 of 1,232 votes had been cast at Lar B. Riyaz Ahmad Sheikh (38) said: “We have two political families living in two parts of the village” — he was referring to NC leader Ishfaq Jabbar and PDP leader Qazi Afzal. “If their (Jabbar’s) relatives and neighbours come out to vote, we will definitely walk to the polling booths to cast our votes. It is village rivalry,” he said.

Former Chief Minister Omar Abdullah took to Twitter: “Have contested 6 elections over 20 years & have never seen this level of violence in elections in Kashmir. Six dead, many injured. What a terrible day. Condolences to the families of the deceased & prayers for the injured.” The separatists called the “boycott” a success and mourned the deaths. Mirwaiz Umar Farooq said: “The only way for us to express our collective grief at their death and share the sorrow with the bereaved families is to observe a shutdown… The leadership has decided to observe a two-day shutdown on Monday and Tuesday.”

Online Source: The Indian Express

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