SRINAGAR: Six civilians were killed in Indian-administered Kashmir when police opened fire on protesters who stormed polling stations during a byelection for a parliamentary seat, a top officer has said. More than 100 were injured during the clashes across central Kashmir on Sunday, the official said. At least 70 polling stations were shut due to the violence. State and paramilitary police fired bullets and shotgun pellets as thousands of protesters who were shouting slogans against Indian rule charged into voting booths in Budgam district near the main city of Srinagar. “Violent protests happened at many places in Budgam. Protesters damaged and snatched EVMs [electronic voting machines] at some places,” Shantmanu, the state’s chief electoral officer who uses one name. “It was not a good day for all of us. Six civilians were killed and 70 were wounded.” Hospital sources in Srinagar said that many of the injured had gunshot wounds. Shantmanu said more than 100 government personnel, including police and paramilitary officers injured in the clashes. Two of the civilian deaths occurred in the Charare-e-Sharif area of Budgam when the paramilitary border security force fired at protesters, he said. Another person was killed in the Beerwah area when paramilitary officers opened fire at acrowd after people started throwing stones. Three more were killed in the day-long clashes, with two of them succumbing to multiple pellet injuries from the shotguns which Indian paramilitary forces use in Kashmir for crowd control.
Polling had to be halted in more than dozen places amid a call for a boycott of the byelection by top Kashmiri separatist leaders opposed to Indian rule. Only 6.5%of voters turned out to cast their ballot, Shantmanu said, the lowest ever participation recorded in any election in the disputed territory. Farooq Abdullah, a former chief minister of the state who is contesting the Srinagar seat, lambasted the government for its failure to maintain law and order. “Elections should have been peaceful. This government has failed in giving a peaceful atmosphere for people to come and vote,” he told reporters. Authorities suspended internet services across the Kashmir Valley in the run-up to the polling because of concerns about widespread protests. Police had also detained hundreds of young people and separatist activists, sources told AFP. Kashmir has been divided between India and Pakistan since the end of British rule in 1947. Both countries claim the disputed territory in its entirety. Rebel groups in Indian Kashmir have for decades battled troops and police, demanding independence or a merger of the territory with Pakistan. About 500,000 Indian soldiers are deployed in the region. An additional 20,000 paramilitary personnel were sent in before Sunday’s election. Armed encounters between rebels and government forces have become more frequent since the killing of a popular rebel leader by security forces last July sparked widespread unrest. Police and army officials say dozens of local youths have joined the rebel ranks since then. At least 29 armed militants, mostly locals, have died fighting government forces this year.