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Suspected Islamic Militants Attack Election Rally in Kashmir - 2004-04-08


In Indian Kashmir, at least four people were killed and two state ministers injured during an attack by suspected Islamic militants on an election rally. The attack follows violence blamed on communist rebels that claimed the lives of at least 26 policemen Wednesday in the eastern part of the country.

Officials say suspected Islamic militants hurled a grenade, just as two state ministers were getting ready to address hundreds of people in the town of Uri, about 100 kilometers north of the Kashmiri summer capital, Srinagar.

Authorities say people fled in panic while gunmen then sprayed bullets on the crowd from a nearby house.

The two ministers, Muzaffar Hussain Baig and Ghulam Hassan Mir, were among dozens of people wounded in the attack. However, the chief of Kashmir's ruling People's Democratic Party, Mehbooba Mufti, escaped unhurt.

India holds parliamentary elections starting April 20. But several Islamic militant groups fighting to separate Kashmir from India have vowed to disrupt the polls and target anyone participating in the elections.

Jammu and Kashmir's chief minister, Mufti Mohammed Sayeed, said the attack was an attempt to derail the peace process and the polls in the troubled northern state.

Mr. Sayeed says militants feel threatened when people participate in the democratic process. But he says ordinary people want peace and restoration of normal conditions in the state.

Elections in Kashmir have been held amid violence and threats of boycotts ever since a Muslim separatist insurgency erupted in the region in 1989.

Thursday's attack was the first election-related violence before the voting that begins later this month.

In a separate and unrelated incident, more than a score of policemen were killed in the eastern state of Jharkhand, and others were seriously wounded when a police convoy on its way to raid a hideout of suspected left-wing rebels hit a landmine.

The attack occurred late Wednesday in a dense forest about 150-kilometers south of the state capital, Ranchi.

Officials say they suspect that the mine was detonated by the outlawed People's War Group, a radical organization that says it is fighting for the distribution of land to peasants in backward and tribal areas of central and eastern India.

Arjun Munda, the chief minister of Jharkhand State, accused the rebels of trying to disrupt democracy through violence. He said the guerrillas were intensifying their attacks before the elections. The rebels have called for an election boycott.

India is grappling with rebel movements and separatist insurgencies in several parts of the country. Tens of thousands of people have died in recent years in violence related to these rebellions.

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