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Polls 2008: Chhattisgarh
Naxals fire at IAF chopper
Engineer killed; 55-60% turnout in first phase
Vibha Sharma
Tribune News Service

Raipur, November 14
Chhattisgarh went to polls for the first phase amidst incidents of violence in Naxal-infested areas of Dantewada and Bijapur in the Bastar tribal belt.

An IAF helicopter was shot at, killing flight engineer Mustafa Ali. The MI-8 aircraft was on way from Pedia to Bijapur, carrying injured BSF jawans and electronic voting machines along with election officials on board when helicopter was fired at with automatic weapons.

In another incident, a CRPF man was killed and four other security personnel sustained injuries.

Reports of several incidents of violence by Maoists were received from Bastar area where polling was said to very low as compared to that in other parts of the state. Political observers said the low turnout was likely to benefit the ruling part in the state.

The elections in Chhattisgarh is a key test for the Congress, which is fighting the ruling BJP in the elections.

In all, 55 to 60 per cent of the 64-lakh electorate in the 39 assembly constituencies exercised their franchise to decide the electoral future of 379 candidates in 10 districts. “The overall approximate polling in the 39 constituencies was around 55-60 per cent,” chief electoral officer Alok Shukla said.

Sources said as far as polling percentage goes, the worst was the Bijapur district, which recorded lowest percentage of voting. In fact, not a single was cast in five polling booths of the Bijapur constituency.

The Naxals also looted EVMs of 21 booths due to which polling could not be held in 21 booths in the Bastar region. Re-polling will be held in these areas.

The IAF sergeant was killed when a Mi-8 helicopter, which he was flying, was fired at with a light machine gun during take-off.

The incident took place in Pedia polling booth under the Bijapur Assembly segment.

Officials said the IAF helicopter had flown in from Bijapur district headquarter to pick up polling officials. The Naxals fired at the chopper from a close range with the LMG and in the fire a bullet hit Ali.

No other person was injured in the firing, a senior police official said, adding that the helicopter, instead of landing at the Bijapur district headquarter landed at Jagadalpur DRDO airport.

In order to conduct free and fair poll in the Naxal-infested region, 10 choppers had been deployed. In the Bastar region, 40 helipads were made and since November 9, the choppers undertook 217 sorties in the affected zone.

Officials said a head constable was shot in Korenar village under Bandher police station in Kanker district. The CRPF was attacked when security persons were returning back after scheduled polling time.

Of the 39 Assembly segments, which went to polls today, 12 Assembly segments were enlisted as very sensitive Assembly segments. The first phase of polling was held amidst a large presence of security personnel of the central police forces and the state police force.

The Naxals also kidnapped and later released five poll officials of Cheetalnar polling booth under Konta Assembly segment. They took away the polling officials to some unknown destination and released them after scheduled polling time was over.

During the first phase of polling, Bijapur district recorded 16.34 per cent, Dantewada district 40 per cent, Naraynpur district 36 per cent, Bastar district 55 per cent and Kanker 50 per cent.

Meanwhile, there was heavy turnout of voters in Rajanandgaon and Durg districts.

Chhattisgarh Chief Minister Raman Singh is contesting from Rajnandgaon and leader of opposition and Congress leader Mahendra Karma is pitted against Manish Kunjam of the CPI from Naxal-dominated Dantewada constituency.

Some other heavyweight candidates include Assembly Speaker Premprakash Pandey from Bhilai and Congress leader Motilal Vohra’s son Arun Vohra from Durg City.



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