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Kashmir Vote Ends Amid Clashes



Indian-administered Kashmir has wrapped up its seventh and final stage of voting in state elections that were marked by protests and separatist boycotts.

Government troops used tear gas and batons to disperse protesters from polling stations in the summer capital, Srinagar, Wednesday. Authorities say at least 20 people were injured.

Heavy troop deployments and restrictions on movement of people made Srinagar look like a city under a curfew.

Muslim separatists boycott vote

Many Muslim separatists boycotted the election saying it only serves to legitimize India's control over Kashmir which is claimed by both India and Pakistan.

Rouf Ahmad is a Srinagar resident. He said the people did not vote because of the bad situation and he said authorities drag people from homes and kill them whenever anything happens. He said he will only vote after freedom is established.

Officials say about 20 percent of Srinagar voters cast ballots in the Muslim-majority city, far more than the five percent who voted in the 2002 elections. But even among the people who voted in Srinagar, not many were happy with the situation.

Some voters unhappy with process

Irshad Ahmad a resident of Srinagar voted but was unhappy with the process.

"This is no free and fair election. Democracy needs liberation of mind of heart. But you see all over the [Kashmir] Valley has been turned into an army [camp]. Everywhere you see army personnel," Ahmed said.

In the Hindu-majority city of Jammu, about 65 percent of voters went to the polls.

Voter turnout was higher in other parts of the region during earlier phases of the seven-stage election.

Top Kashmiri separatist Mirwaiz Umar says that many people came out to vote to try and focus the attention of the government on their day to day problems.

"We do acknowledge that in many places people have voluntarily voted, they have voted for a good governance, better governance, but that vote should never be misconstrued as vote against freedom," Umar said.

The vote concludes a year that has been marked by some of the biggest protests against Indian rule since a Muslim insurgency began in 1989.

Preliminary results from the state elections are expected by Sunday.



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