Eight killed in violence during Srinagar bypoll

Voter turnout at dismal 7.14%

Eight killed in violence during Srinagar bypoll
Violence marred the polling for the Srinagar Lok Sabha seat with at least eight people being killed in firing by security forces on Sunday. The bypoll saw the voter turnout plunge to a low of 7.14%.

More than 120 people, including security personnel, were wounded as rampant mobs attacked polling stations at dozens of places.

Three protesters died in Beerwah, two in Dalwan, one each in Chadoora and Wathura areas of Budgam district and one in Ganderbal district of the constituency. Police said the forces opened fire after mobs attacked the polling stations across Budgam district and damaged the electronic voting machines to prevent voters from exercising their franchise. More than a dozen vehicles on polling duty were also torched by the mobs, reports said.

Jammu and Kashmir Chief Electoral Officer Shantamanu, while confirming the deaths, said more than 100 security personnel sustained injuries in the stone-pelting incidents throughout the day. He also said that 17 protesters were injured in the violence.

Addressing a press conference, Shantamanu said the poll percentage was 7.14%, which is 26% less than the 2014 polls. Most of the youths killed in Sunday’s violence are teenagers, with one of them being a Class VI student.

Reports of stone-pelting on polling stations and staff were also received from Ganderbal. The army was called in to help the police and paramilitary forces control the youth, who also hurled petrol bombs and set a polling booth ablaze.

In Srinagar city, the situation by and large remained peaceful though most of the voters preferred to stay indoors. However, later in the day, four protesters were wounded when forces fired at them at Habbak on the outskirts of the city. One of them is said to be critical.

Polling began at 7 am in Budgam, Srinagar and Ganderbal districts, which fall within the parliamentary constituency. A dozen paramilitary CRPF troopers were rescued by their colleagues after over five hours of captivity in Galwanpora village of central Kashmir’s Budgam district.

Sources said the troopers were held hostage inside a government-run school after protesters stormed the building. A senior police officer told Deccan Herald that at least 70% polling booths were abandoned by security forces and polling staff due to the hostile environment in Budgam district.

 He said that as the situation spiralled out of control, EVMs at dozens of polling booths were taken away by the police without a single vote being polled. “At some polling stations, voting machines were set ablaze by the protesters,” the officer said.

Abdullahs slam govt

Opposition National Conference chief Farooq Abdullah, who is contesting the Srinagar seat, and his son Omar Abdullah slammed the PDP-led Mehbooba Mufti government for its failure to maintain law and order.

“The elections should have been peaceful. This government has failed in giving a peaceful atmosphere for people to come and vote,” the senior Abdullah told reporters.

Omar also lashed out at the government over the suspension of mobile and broadband internet services in poll-bound Kashmir, saying it shows how bad things have become in the last couple of years.

“Don’t remember this happening in previous elections. Just goes to show how bad things have gotten in the last couple of years,” the former chief minister of Kashmir tweeted.

Internet services of all cellular companies, including BSNL Broadband, were snapped in the Valley from Saturday night. The bypoll for the Srinagar constituency was held because the seat fall vacant after the then sitting member Tariq Karra resigned during the unrest in 2016. Separatists have called for a complete shutdown on Monday and Tuesday against the civilian killings.

Only way to express’

“The only way for us to express our collective grief at their death and share the sorrow with the bereaved families is to observe a shutdown and register our solidarity with the martyrs and the cause for which they were killed. The people will observe a complete shutdown on Monday and Tuesday,” moderate Hurriyat chairman Mirwaiz Umar told reporters.

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