Clashes Disrupt Indian Kashmir Voting

13 December 2008
Agence France-Presse

Pulwama: Police hurled tear gas and fired into the air to disperse hundreds of anti-election demonstrators in Indian Kashmir on Saturday during the fifth phase of staggered state elections. Four protesters and three policemen were hurt during the clashes in Koel village, near the town of Pulwama, 35 kilometers (21 miles) south of summer capital Srinagar, a police officer said, asking not to be named. Separatist politicians and rebels have called for a boycott of the polls, arguing elections strengthen New Delhi's hold over the disputed Muslim-majority region. However, voters still turned up at polling booths. 'I'm here to vote for a candidate who will work to build roads and schools in our town,' said Ghulam Mohammed, a retired bank employee. 'This isn't a vote against the separatists, nor is it for India. It's to choose an honest local government,' he said, minutes before casting his ballot. During the first four rounds of voting, turnout has averaged more than 60 percent, regarded as considerable by Indian standards. Indian authorities stagger the polls in order to move troops around to provide security. For the first time in nearly 20 years, there has been little election-related violence after guerrillas vowed not to threaten voters. In Saturday's violence, police took action after hundreds of villagers assembled to protest against the vote. Indian Kashmir was put under federal rule in July following the collapse of the state government over a Hindu-Muslim land dispute that triggered a series of major anti-India demonstrations. The nearly 20-year-old insurgency in Kashmir has left nearly 50,000 people dead according to the official count, and thousands more according to separatists and human rights groups. The seventh and final round of the vote takes place on December 24 and the results are due four days later.