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16 Dead, Hundreds Injured During Eastern India Election Violence


Election violence has left at least 16 people dead and hundreds injured in the eastern Indian state of West Bengal. Raymond Thibodeaux reports for VOA from New Delhi.

Clashes between rival political parties spilled into Monday following local elections in West Bengal.

Eyewitnesses said some villagers and poll workers were killed as police fired at protesters near polling booths. The violence broke out in Murshidabad, 200 kilometers north of West Bengal's capital, Kolkata.

Adhir Chowdhury leads the opposition Congress Party. He accused West Bengal's Marxist-led government of 'unleashing a reign of terror' during the elections to intimidate voters in an opposition stronghold. The Communist Party of India has ruled in West Bengal for much of the past three decades.

"The entire rule of Bengal has been officiated by violence perpetuated by the ruling regime," said Chowdhury. "They simply are resorting to violence, arson, torture and raping only to intimidate the people."

West Bengal's Communist Party leaders argue that the Congress Party supporters threatened violence days before the polls to ratchet up tension in an already contentious election.

Political analyst Sujoy Dhur says the larger issue at stake is the poll violence that continues to plague elections in many of India's small towns.

"Violence is part of India elections, and this culture of violence is very much there in West Bengal too," said Dhur. "In the rural areas, things are always more violent than in the urban centers. The Communist Party of India - Marxists, they have pursued an industrialization policy that involves takeover of farmlands for industry so this tension was brewing for [a long time]. And this time the opposition tried tooth and nail to put up a resistance."

This year's local election was one of the most violent in West Bengal's history, with at least 30 dead in several rounds of polling. Nineteen people were killed during the last elections in 2003.