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Millions of Indians Vote in Latest Stage of Parliamentary Elections - 2004-05-05

Millions of Indians have voted in the latest stage of the country's five-phase parliamentary elections. Sporadic violence marred the polling in several states, leaving at least three people dead.

Prime Minister Atal Behari Vajpayee flashed a victory sign, as he cast his ballot in Lucknow, in Uttar Pradesh state, where he is seeking re-election.

Mr. Vajpayee's constituency was among the 83 parliamentary seats being voted on in seven states.

They include several populous, Hindi-speaking states, including Uttar Pradesh, Bihar, Rajasthan and Madhya Pradesh. This is a crucial region for the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP).

The election pits the ruling BJP and its coalition partners against the opposition Congress Party and its allies.

Both political groups intensified their campaigns before Wednesday's vote, after recent predictions that the BJP remains in the lead, but may not win an outright majority in Parliament.

Mr. Vajpayee dismissed predictions that his party is faltering, and told reporters he is confident of securing a majority.

Pramod Mahajan, a BJP leader and its chief strategist, sounded confident that the party will perform well in Uttar Pradesh, where it needs to pick up seats to gain a majority. ?The way in which we have conducted the second phase in Uttar Pradesh, right from the organization to the resource mobilization, I am confident we will have double the seats,? he said.

Sporadic incidents of violence were reported from several places, despite tight security.

In Kashmir, grenade and rifle attacks on polling stations in a string of villages killed at least one person and injured several others. Muslim separatists have called for a poll boycott in the insurgency-wracked region. Security forces also fired tear gas to break up anti-election rallies.

At least two rival political activists were killed in gunfights in the eastern Bihar state, known as India's most lawless region.

Voting for Parliament's 543 elected seats is being held in five phases to allow security forces to move across the country. The final phase of polling will be next Monday, and the vote count will be done May 13.