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Violence Surges in Kashmir - 2002-09-22

There has been a surge of violence in Indian-administered Kashmir, where a second round of voting to choose a new state assembly will be held on Tuesday. Indian officials have repeated charges that rival Pakistan is trying to disrupt the elections in Kashmir. The divided region lies at the heart of the dispute between the two countries.

Police say suspected Islamic militants lobbed a grenade at a security patrol near a crowded bus stop in the town of Shopian, 50 kilometers south of Kashmir's summer capital, Srinagar. The grenade missed its target, but several civilians were injured in the explosion.

Earlier Sunday, officials say they ended a night-long siege of a police residential complex in Srinagar, after killing a suspected Islamic militant. At least two gunmen wearing police uniforms stormed the complex after lobbing grenades and opening fire at security personnel posted at the gate.

The sound of gunfire was heard through the night. At least one policeman was killed and several were injured in the attack.

At least two political workers were also targeted in the night. A ruling party worker, Ghulam Ahmed Paray, was killed, but the other escaped unhurt.

Most of the recent violence has been reported from the districts around Srinagar, where voting will be held Tuesday.

More than 400 people have been killed since elections were announced last month. About half of suspected Islamic militants, the rest are Indian security officials, civilians and political workers, including two candidates.

Violence surged over the past week, after the first round of voting concluded last Monday.

In New Delhi, Indian Prime Minister Atal Behari Vajpayee said the election-related violence in Kashmir revealed that there had been no change in Pakistan's attitude toward India. New Delhi accuses Islamabad of sponsoring and supporting Islamic militant groups waging a separatist insurgency in Kashmir. Pakistan denies the charge.

Mr. Vajpayee said New Delhi will only resume a dialogue with Pakistan if Islamabad stops giving logistic support to Islamic militants. Indian Junior Foreign Minister Digvijay Singh accused Pakistan of "doing its best to disrupt the poll process."

Pakistan has dismissed the elections in Indian Kashmir as a "sham." Islamic militant groups have vowed to derail the polls, and Kashmiri political separatist groups have called for a boycott. Voting is being held amid heavy security. The separatist insurgency erupted in 1989.