Clashes, Strike As Indian Kashmir Segment Votes

7 May 2009
Agence France-Presse

Srinagar: Indian troops used teargas and batons to disperse rock-throwing protesters in Kashmir as the region voted under tight security and a crippling strike by separatists opposed to New Delhi's rule. Thousands of police and federal troops were deployed in Kashmir's summer capital Srinagar, where all the 1,400 voting stations have been declared 'hyper-sensitive' by the election authorities. Despite the heavy deployment, scores of protesters hit the streets in Srinagar, prompting government troops to use teargas and batons, paramilitary spokesman Prabhakar Tripathy said. Elsewhere in the city, he said, suspected militants lobbed a petrol bomb at a voting station, but there was no damage. A two-day strike organised by separatist groups to back their call for an election boycott completely shut down the city for the second day running. Leading separatists, who argue that participating in the election legitimises Indian rule, have been placed under house arrest. 'India has denied us the political space by detaining us,' said Yasin Malik, a senior separatist, who is also under house arrest. 'We should have been allowed to campaign against the holding of elections,' he said, adding the 'struggle for Kashmir's independence will continue.' The hardline Pakistan-based militant group Lashkar-e-Taiba (LeT) joined calls for a boycott. 'People should foil the Indian designs by boycotting the polls,' Lashkar spokesman Abdullah Gaznavi said, adding that 'the struggle for freedom will surely succeed and India will ultimately pull out of Kashmir.' The group was blamed by India for the deadly Mumbai attacks last year that left 166 people dead and over 300 wounded. There were almost empty voting stations in the main city but in the neighbouring districts of Gandherbal and Kangan, part of the Srinagar segment, some stations witnessed brisk polling, officials said. The election office in Srinagar said 14 percent of the eligible 1.1 million voters had cast their ballots by midday.