Violence erupts at Indian elections

Sporadic violence marred the fourth phase of parliamentary elections in India today.

Sporadic violence marred the fourth phase of parliamentary elections in India today.

Turbulent areas of Srinagar, the capital of Indian-controlled Jammu and Kashmir, had a restless start to the polls but voting picked up as calm was restored.

Tear gas was fired at one group of protesters chanting slogans against the elections, while suspected rebels threw a petrol bomb at a polling booth in the state's capital though no damage was caused, a spokesman for the Central Reserve Police Force said.

In violence-hit Nandigram, West Bengal, two workers from the ruling Communist Party of India - Marxist (CPI-M) were seriously injured when party activists and the opposition Trinamool Congress clashed this morning.

In 2007, the lives of 14 villagers from the same area were lost and 70 more were injured over protests against the government's land acquisition to set up a chemical hub for an Indonesian-based group.

In a separate incident 90 miles from Kolkatta, a CPI-M worker died after bombs were hurled at him. Incidents of bombing, ransacking and looting have also been reported from constituencies that went to the polls today.

Two voters who were standing in a queue reportedly died of sunstroke in the same state. Another was killed in Rajasthan when paramilitary forces opened fire to prevent a mob from capturing a booth.

Across the country, aerial patrolling was conducted in rebel-affected areas as the three previous phases had seen violent protests by Maoists. Security personnel were also patrolling waterways in boats.

By 2pm local time, West Bengal had recorded the highest turnout of the phase at with 49% of the registered electorate voting. Despite separatist calls for a poll boycott and general strike, Jammu and Kashmir recorded 14.5% voting at the same time.

The capital registered nearly 40% voting by 3pm local time.

More than 90 million voters were eligible to cast their ballots for 1,315 candidates in the fray for 85 seats. A total of seven states including the most populated, Uttar Pradesh, and the country's federally administered capital New Delhi went to the polls today.

Politicians will contest for 85 seats from Uttar Pradesh over the course of the elections, with 18 going to the polls today. The state, which has strong regional and caste-based parties, holds the maximum number of seats in the parliament.

Both Samajwadi Party (SP) leader Mulayam Singh and Bahujan Samaj Party chief Mayawati have projected themselves as prime ministerial candidates this year.

Among the political heavyweights hoping to win in this phase are external affairs minister Pranab Mukherjee, Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) chief Rajnath Singh, railway minister Lalu Prasad Yadav and SP's Mr Singh.

Political analysts expect a hung parliament with neither the ruling majority Congress Party or the opposition BJP winning a clear majority. The tussle for votes has been surrounded by parties jostling for allies, with regional parties holding sway over crucial votebanks.

A recent survey by the Times of India forecast a close finish with the Congress predicted to win 195 seats and 187 seats for the BJP. They would have to share the seats with regional parties and independent candidates, who are predicted to win 111 and 50 seats respectively.

The SP leader Mr Singh said: "The trend after three phases of polling shows that no government at the centre would be possible without SP's support."

The country has voted a coalition government to power for the last three elections. The first two National Democratic Alliance coalitions were led by the BJP while the current United Progressive Alliance has a large number of Congress seats.

High-profile voters who turned up at polling booths today included Congress Party president Sonia Gandhi, her daughter Priyanka Gandhi and son-in-law Robert Vadra.

Former Indian president A P J Abdul Kalam and vice president Hamid Ansari also cast their votes.

The fifth and final phase of voting will be held on May 13 with results of the elections announced on May 16. Violence mostly initiated by Maoist rebels left at least 20 dead during the first three rounds of the elections for 543 seats in the parliament.

The world's largest democracy will see a new government in place by June 2, under the rules of the constitution.

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