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Sole Female Candidate in Kashmir Elections Unharmed After Assassination Attempt - 2002-09-21


In Indian-administered Kashmir, officials say suspected Islamic militants have made two attempts to kill a state minister. They say another 11 people, including two political workers, have been killed in the troubled region. The fresh violence comes days before a second round of voting is held in Kashmir for state assembly seats.

Officials say Kashmir's tourism minister, Sakina Itoo, came under attack twice, but escaped unhurt on both occasions.

Police say Ms. Itoo was on her way to address an election rally, when suspected militants set off a bomb, as her motorcade passed by in Kulgam district, about 60 kilometers south of Kashmir's summer capital, Srinagar. After the explosion, guerrillas surrounded her car and opened fire. One security officer was killed and three others were injured.

The attack came hours after Islamic militants lobbed hand grenades at her residence in Anantnag district. No one was injured in that incident.

Ms. Itoo is seeking re-election. She is the only woman candidate in the state elections and has been the target of at least two other attacks this month. Candidates campaign in bulletproof cars with heavy security.

Two other political activists of left parties were shot dead by unidentified gunmen in overnight attacks, also in Kulgam town. Police say the activists were dragged out of their homes and shot at close range. At least four other political workers have been killed since Wednesday in attacks blamed on Islamic militants.

In separate incidents, three other people were killed by suspected militants, and the army said it had shot dead four rebels. More than 400 people have died in election-related violence since the polls were announced last month.

Muslim militants have vowed to disrupt the polls, and kill anyone participating in the elections. The first round of voting was held earlier this week.

The second round will be held Tuesday. Among the regions that go to the polls will be the state's winter capital Jammu, and summer capital Srinagar. The elections will conclude on October 8, after two more rounds of voting. Kashmiri political separatist groups have refused to participate in the elections and have called for a boycott.

The region has been wracked by a Muslim separatist insurgency since 1989.

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