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Regional Party Enters Talks for Coalition Government in Jammu and Kashmir

A regional party is preparing to put together a coalition government in Indian Kashmir after no clear winner emerged in recent elections. Indian leaders have called the recent elections a victory for democracy.

The Kashmir-based National Conference, which emerged as the single largest party in Jammu and Kashmir, has initiated talks with the Congress Party to cobble together a coalition government for the state. The National Conference president, Omar Abdhullah is emerging as the likely chief minister of the state.

No party won a clear majority in the state polls held over several weeks. The pro-India National Conference won 28 seats in the 87-member state assembly. The Congress Party has won 17 seats.

The elections were held over several weeks in the restive Himalayan region where a violent separatist insurgency erupted in 1989.

Both the National Conference and the Congress Party have called the results in Kashmir elections a "victory for democracy."

Kashmir's former Chief Minister and a leader of the Congress Party, Ghulam Nabi Azad, indicated his party is open to an alliance with the National Conference.

"We would like to go in alliance with a political party who believes in the unity and integrity of the country," said Azad.

Kashmir is India's only Muslim majority region, and anti-India sentiment runs deep in the mountainous region.

However, New Delhi has been encouraged by the huge turnout in the recent elections. More than 60 percent Kashmiris voted despite a call to boycott the polls by separatist parties who felt the elections will strengthen Indian hold on the region. Many analysts have interpreted the high voter turnout as a sign that Kashmiris have endorsed Indian rule in the region.

Separatists admit the wide participation by people in the recent polls took them by surprise. But a prominent separatist leader in Kashmir, Sajjad Lone, told VOA that the high turnout should not be taken as a sign that Kashmiris no longer want independence.

"They have to make a difference between the concept of grievances and the concept of aspirations," said Lone. "People might have voted to address their grievances, and grievances I connect with day to day problems, making of roads. Aspirations is a much bigger issue which pertains to the will of the people to fight for their own political destiny."

Jammu and Kashmir was ruled by the federal government for nearly six months after the former government resigned following weeks of anti-India protests in June. Kashmir is divided between India and Pakistan.