Poll pangs end with 40% in Baramulla

Clashes, boycott, booth-capture dominate last phase voting in Valley’s North

SRINAGAR: People heaved a sigh of relief on Wednesday as the last phase of polling in Kashmir for two seats at Baramulla and Ladakh regions ended with  higher voter turnout than previous phases in South and Central Kashmir. The state’s election office has claimed 39.6 percent turnout in Kashmir and over 65 percent in Ladakh, where one parliament seat has been allotted for just 1.6 lakh voters.

In aggregate, during all the three phases in Kashmir more than seventy percent population stayed away from the poll. The reasons might be aplenty yet the separatists lost no time to own it as the “popular endorsement of freedom movement.”

While Ladakh remained peaceful, three districts of North Kashmir, Baramulla, Kupwara and Bandipore, which make for the parliamentary constituency, witnessed sporadic violence.

Amid a couple of explosions, incidents of stone throwing, massive anti-election protests protesters at some places in Bandipore’s Hajin and Sopore’s Bomai areas attacked polling booths, taking the polling staff hostage. The crisis, however , did not last longer and the mobs were dispersed without any loss of life.

Stone throwing incidents were reported from Baramulla town where police and Paramilitary personnel were deployed in strength to thwart any possible protest. Reports said that scores of youths gathered at four main bridges of the town including Cement Bridge, Azadgunj Bridge, Khanpora Bridge and the Government Transport Yard Bridge and clashed with the government forces. Protestors burnt down the wasted car wheels on the roads and attacked police and Paramilitary CRPF with stones. Police used tear-smoke shells to disperse them. Eyewitnesses said that clashes between protestors and government forces continued for several hours. Clashes between police and protestors were also reported from Iqbal Colony, Armpora, and Bunglobagh Baramulla. Reports said that Army was called out to control the situation which sealed all the roads leading to the town. At least three persons allegedly involved in stone pelting incidents were arrested by police.

An eerie calm wrapped Sopore where army and paramilitary personnel had literally outnumbers the people living in the streets. Nobody dared to protest in the main town. But fierce protests and clashes were reported from different parts of this Apple township. Major clashes broke out at Bomai Sopore where majority of the people stayed away from the poll process. Reports said that, amid pro-freedom slogans, scores of youth attacked polling booth number 023 and 024 located at Idipora Bomai Sopore.

The youth pelted stones on the polling booths and locked them. They made the polling staff hostage for hours. Eyewitnesses said that these two polling booths were reclaimed by the government forces after they burst tear-smoke shells to disperse the protestors. Both these booths were later on relocated at the Government Boys Higher Secondary School Bomai.

Protestors also clashed with government forces at Hardshiva village of Sopore and after resorting to heavy stone-pelting occupied a polling both.

CRPF personnel exercised maximum restraint when scores of youth attacked a polling station number 19 and 20 at Wadoora Sopore. The protestors captured booth the polling booths and caused heavy damage to the material and buiding. A polling officer on condition of anonymity said that CRPF and Police personnel saved them from the wrath of these stone-pelters who tried to attack them. A CRPF officer on duty said that the attack on the polling booth was massive, “we exercised maximum restraint to avoid any causality,” he said adding that two CRPF personnel were injured in the attack.

The situation in Handwara, Langate, Lolab, Kupwara and Tangmarag remained peaceful where large number of voters exercised their franchise in peaceful atmosphere.

Deputy Inspector General North Kashmir Ghulam Hasan Bhat said that overall the situation remained peaceful. “There were stone-pelting incidents in Bandipore, Naidkhai, Hajin, Azadganj, Fathegad, Armpora in Baramulla, Bomai Sopore and Palhalan Patan but it was manageable and our men managed the situation in an efficient way,” Bhat said adding that four policemen were injured during the stone-pelting incidents.

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