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State Minister Killed in Indian Kashmir - 2002-09-11

In Indian Kashmir, suspected militants have gunned down a state minister as he campaigned for state elections that begin next week. Seven other people, including soldiers and policemen, were killed in a separate incident. There has been an increase of violence in the insurgency-wracked region in the run-up to the elections.

The law minister for Indian-administered Kashmir, Mushtaq Ahmed Lone, was addressing a political rally in a small village in Kupwara district, north of Srinagar, when unidentified gunmen opened fire, killing the minister. Several other people, including his bodyguards were also killed.

Mr. Lone was a senior member of the ruling pro-India National Conference Party. He was campaigning for re-election.

A little-known Islamic militant group, al-Ariseen, has claimed responsibility for the killing.

In a second attack on a politician, police say suspected Islamic militants lobbed grenades at the home of State Tourism Minister Sakina Itoo in Anantnag district. However she was not at home at the time.

The latest attacks come five days before Kashmir begins a four-phase election.

Muslim guerrilla groups fighting for Kashmir's independence have threatened to kill those participating in the polls. The attacks on politicians have intensified in the last week. An independent candidate was shot dead five days ago. Several political activists have also been killed or wounded since campaigning began.

There was more violence in Kashmir besides the attacks on the two ministers. Hours after Mr. Lone was killed, suspected rebels opened fire at a bus stop in Poonch district, northwest of Kashmir's winter capital Jammu. The victims included soldiers, policemen and a teenage boy.

India hopes the state elections will boost the legitimacy of its rule in the violence-torn region. Islamic guerrilla groups have vowed to disrupt the polls and warned people against coming out to vote.

Political analysts say the stepped-up violence ahead of the polls could intensify tensions between India and Pakistan. India accuses Pakistan of supporting the Islamic groups who want to derail the elections. Pakistan denies the charge.