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Polls Close in Kashmir, Ending Third Round of Voting

The polls have closed in the third round of state assembly elections in Indian-administered Kashmir. Violence that killed at least 18 people kept many voters away.

The third round of voting in Indian-administered Kashmir was marked by scattered attacks by suspected separatist militants across Kashmir.

In the worst incident, authorities say suspected militants attacked a bus near Hiranagar, about 70 kilometers south of Jammu, the winter capital of Jammu and Kashmir state. Eight people were reported killed.

In another incident, several paramilitary troops were killed when a mine was detonated under their vehicle near Srinigar, the summer capital. About 500 people have died so far in election violence since campaigning began in August.

Speaking in New Delhi, Sayan Chatterjee, India's Deputy Election Commissioner, said violence in the third round of voting was the worst seen so far. "I think today, violence during the polling period was of a much higher intensity today than during the first two phases," Mr. Chatterjee said.

He said he believes overall voter turnout was about 41 percent, lower than in the previous two phases of voting. Voters were choosing candidates to fill 27 seats in the 87 seat state assembly.

The final round of voting is scheduled for October 8 and results will be announced on October 10.

Separatist militants have threatened to kill candidates and voters taking part in the elections. Separatist political parties have called for a boycott, saying the voting does not address the issue of self determination for Kashmiris.

Deputy Election Commissioner Sayan Chatterjee says one reason there was so much violence during the third phase of polling, was that voting was taking place in four districts where separatist militants are especially active.

"These places, the places in the valley where people went to the polls today, were considerably infested with militancy. Unlike several other places in earlier phases, here there is a terrain factor, which is very favorable to the militant activity," Mr. Chatterjee said.

In recent days, senior Indian officials have stepped up verbal attacks against Pakistan. They say increased militant activity in Kashmir is a sign that Pakistan is pushing more militants across the line of control that divides Kashmir between the two countries.

The Indian officials have hinted at retaliatory action, saying India has the right to retaliate for violence carried out on its soil.

Pakistani officials have called the Kashmir elections a farce, but deny supporting the militants. They say infiltration across the line of control has virtually stopped.