Bombing Kills India Elections Officials

PATNA, India (AP) - Suspected communist rebels blew up a jeep
carrying polling officials in eastern India, killing five people in
violence that marred voting in India's parliamentary elections,
police said Friday.

Thursday's land mine attack in Bihar state came just after
voting ended in the eastern strongholds of communist guerrillas who
have fought for decades for the rights of the poor.

Four police officers and one election official died and the jeep
driver was hospitalized with serious injuries in Muzzafarpur
district, nearly 45 miles (75 kilometers) east of the Bihar state
capital of Patna, said police official Neelmani, who uses one name.
They were returning to their headquarters with electronic voting
machines and other election materials.

The attackers then fled the area, Neelmani said.

A brutal heat wave sweeping much of India, together with threats
of violence from the communist guerillas, kept millions away from
the polls during Thursday's second round of voting. India's
five-phase voting will end May 13.

Results are expected May 16. With more than 700 million voters,
India normally holds staggered elections for logistic and security
reasons.

Polls indicate neither the Congress party, which leads the
governing coalition, nor the main opposition, the Hindu nationalist
Bharatiya Janata Party, will win enough seats in the 543-seat lower
house of Parliament to rule on their own.

That means the election will likely leave India with a shaky
coalition government cobbled together from across the political
spectrum - a situation giving the next prime minister little time
to deal with a growing number of challenges like the economic
crisis.

Turnout, initially high as voters headed to polling stations
early Thursday, slowed to a trickle as summertime temperatures
touched 111 degrees Fahrenheit (44 Celsius.) The intense heat
caused the death of one election official and hospitalization of
another in the eastern state of Orissa, said Prabhakar Sahu, a
spokesman for the election commission.

"The heat wave is so intense how can one go out?" said Suresh
Sharma, an engineer from the northern city of Allahabad. "I wanted
to cast my vote, but I fear if I go I may fall ill."

Maoist rebels threatened to kill citizens participating in the
election, which they dismiss as a "fake exercise."

At least 17 people were killed allegedly by insurgents in the
first round of voting last week in central and eastern India.

Also Thursday, a magistrate and a police officer were wounded in
an attack on their jeep in Jharkhand state, said state spokesman
S.P. Pradhan

Separately, nearly 20 suspected rebels burned four jeeps loaded
with voting machines and other election materials outside a polling
station in Jharkhand state, said police superintendent Navin Kumar
Singh.

Many in the state said the threats persuaded them not to vote.

"I don't want to annoy them. They can harm me and my
business," said Anil Agarwal, a businessman in the town of Giridh.
Officials said turnout in Jharkhand was about 50 percent, and only
45 percent in the neighboring state of Bihar.

In Uttar Pradesh, India's most populous state, turnout was just
43 percent, said Anuj Kumar Bishnoi, the chief electoral officer.

The exception to the trend was the southern state of Andhra
Pradesh where turnout was 65 percent. Much of this was attributed
to the debut foray into politics by the region's biggest film star.

Venkateswara Rao, a businessman, said he decided to vote for the
first time to support Chiranjeevi, a superstar of regional language
Telugu films, who uses just one name.

"I am inspired by the presence of Chiranjeevi. I want him and
his party to win," Rao said as he waited for his turn to cast his
ballot.


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