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18 die in Jharkhand, Bihar poll violence
Prashant Sood/Satish Mishra
Tribune News Service

Ranchi/Patna, February 3
A low turnout was recorded in the Naxalite-affected areas of Jharkhand in the first phase of polling for 24 Assembly seats with the Naxalites exploding a landmine yesterday night in Malahi Tola area of Chhattarpur constituency in Palamu division, which killed seven persons, including six security personnel.

Meanwhile in Bihar, violence marred polling in almost all constituencies, killing a Returning officer in Nawada and 10 others, including Home Guards and police officials, in poll-realted violence.

The state government has announced a compensation of Rs 10 lakh to the next of kin of those killed in poll violence.

Initial estimates by the Jharkhand Election Commission put the polling figure at around 50 per cent. The Naxalite-infested Latehar and Manika had recorded 29 per cent polling by 4 pm today. Simiria recorded 43 per cent polling and Chattra 40 per cent. Urban areas, including Hazaribagh and Kodarma, recorded nearly 60 per cent polling.

The state election commission has ordered a repoll in a polling booth of Simira constituency due to malfunctioning of the electronic voting machine. State Chief Electoral Officer A.K. Pande said repoll in some more areas could be ordered after verifying the complaints. The state election commission received nearly 40 poll-related complaints.

Mr Pande said the polling was largely peaceful and the authorities had promptly replaced EVMs wherever complaints were received about their malfunctioning. A poll official died due to heart attack in Barkatha seat but it had no impact on polling.

The state DGP, Mr Shivaji Kere, said except seven persons killed in the landmine blast, no other casualty had been reported from any other part of the state. Giving details of the incident, he said the security persons were returning after leaving a poll party when the landmine was exploded by the ultras.

The civilian driver of the vehicle was also killed. He said there was an exchange of fire between security forces and Naxalites at Balumat in Latehar and also at Pratap Pur in Chhatra but no one was injured.

Observers here said that low turnout in Naxalite-affected rural areas could help the BJP. They said BJP had a strong presence in urban belts of Naxalite-affected constituencies and low turnout in rural areas could mean fewer votes to other parties.

The election to the first phase was conducted amid unprecedented security measures. Helicopters were used for aerial surveillance. The security had been beefed up in view of the perception that the Naxalites will try to make their presence felt through violence in the stateís first assembly elections.

In Bihar 55 per cent electorate of the state exercised their franchise braving poll violence and calls of boycott by naxal outfits. Clear weather and a sunny day also ensured good polling.

The poll arrangements made by the Bihar administration proved to be grossly inadequate as even in areas declared sensitive, central paramilitary forces were not deputed and in many booths in naxal violence infested districts of Gaya, Jehanabad, Arrah and Sasaram, the Home Guards were sent to maintain order which resulted in incidents of booth capturing.

Many voters possessing valid election cards had to go back from polling booths as they were not permitted to cast their votes, reports reaching here said.

In Nawada, a Returning Officer was killed in violence. In other cases of violence, 10 persons, including Home Guard and Police officials, have been killed.

The state government has announced a compensation of Rs 10 lakh to the next of kin of those killed in poll violence.

Polling took place in 63 constituencies with Election in Imamganj constituency of Gaya district being countermanded by the Election Commission after incidents of violence.

The administrationís failure not only resulted in booth capturing and destruction of EVMs but also in gun firing between rival political parties and their supporters.

In many constituencies, EVMs were found defective resulting in delayed voting. In some other areas, voting machines could not reach forcing the Election Commission to order polling tomorrow.

In Ghoshi Assembly constituency in Jehanabad district, gun fire was exchanged between the supporters of the sitting MLA Jagdish Sharma and another Independent candidate and EVMs were destroyed.

Twelve villages in Sasaram Lok Sabha constituency boycotted polling in protest against lack of development in the area. In Sasaram Assembly constituency, a woman was killed and another hurt in gun firing.

Similar boycott of polling was reported from Banka Assembly constituency also.

In Rohtas district, JD(U) and RJD supporters clashed in which a woman was killed and EVMs destroyed.

In an atmosphere of fear and violence, voters dared to come out to exercise their franchise but many preferred to remain indoors as electronic media reported incidents of clashes, gun firing and booth capturing.

People also ignored calls of vote boycott given by naxal outfits in Gaya district.

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