Rebels launch attacks to disrupt Indian polls

Maoist rebels launched a series of attacks today as the second phase of parliamentary elections began in India.

Millions queued outside polling booths across 12 states including Jharkhand, which is highly vulnerable to Maoist attacks.

The rebels attacked a railway police camp in Singhbhum district in the state to disrupt polls just a few hours after voting started.

They also triggered an explosion in Girdih to stop voters going to polling booths. A railway station and tracks were bombed in Palamau district to disrupt train services.

They blew up the Chianki station, near Medininagar, and exploded bombs on the tracks in the area, deputy commissioner Amitabh Kaushal said.

Two railway staff were reported to be missing after the attacks. No deaths were immediately reported.

Yesterday the rebels hijacked a train in Latehar district but after a three-hour stand-off they freed all 700 passengers on board.

Today large numbers of voters were braving the threat of attacks. Prabhakar Chanchal, a resident of Bihar, said: “Maoists are trying to disrupt polls but we are confident of voting.

“We feel voting is necessary and it is our constitutional right if we want to bring about change.”

Today’s voting will decide the fate of many prominent politicians, including Congress Party general secretary Rahul Gandhi. He is contesting Amethi in Uttar Pradesh.

Union minister Ram Vilas Paswan is seeking election in Hajipur in Bihar. Another union minister, Sharad Pawar, is standing in Madha in Madhya Pradesh.

For most seats, the ruling Congress Party is fighting with main opposition Bhartiya Janta Party (BJP).

Many small and regional parties are also trying to make their mark in national politics.

The Bahujan Samaj Party is expected to put up a strong show in the state of Uttar Pradesh.

Meanwhile, Muslim “hate-speech” politician Varun Gandhi filed his nomination from Pilibhit yesterday. He is on bail for two weeks granted by the Supreme Court and is a BJP candidate.

The states going to the polls are Andhra Pradesh with 20 seats, Assam 11, Bihar 13, Goa, two, Jammu and Kashmir, one, Karnataka 17, Madhya Pradesh 13, Maharashtra 25, Orissa 11, Tripura, two, Uttar Pradesh, 17, and Jharkhand, eight.

Voting closes at 5pm local time, except in Maoist-threatened areas, where it will end at 3pm.

In the first phase of polls on April 16, at least 17 people were killed by the rebels.

Elections will be held in five phases. Votes in all seats will be counted on May 16.

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