- (AFP) -- Kashmir's separatists hailed a near total boycott
of assembly elections in the summer capital Srinagar as a victory against
- Only 11 percent of eligible voters showed up to vote
in Srinagar, the center of a 13-year insurgency against Indian rule, although
majorities turned out in the two other districts voting Tuesday, adjacent
Budgam and Hindu-majority Jammu in the south of the state.
- The voting took place in relative security, with just
two minor attacks reported against polling stations. But 20 people were
killed in a dozen separate battles around the state, including an early-morning
gunfight with Islamic rebels holed up in a house in Srinagar.
- The Srinagar-based main separatist alliance, the All
Parties Hurriyat Conference, which called for a boycott of the vote, said
the low turnout was a sign that Kashmiris rejected Indian-organized elections
as a solution to the half-century dispute over Kashmir. The state is divided
between nuclear-armed India and Pakistan and claimed in full by both.
- "We knew even earlier that the people of Jammu and
Kashmir were not at all in a mood to vote with a view to returning people
to the assembly," Hurriyat chairman Abdul Gani Bhat told AFP.
- "The people of Jammu and Kashmir by and large want
a solution," Bhat said. "We have seen elections in the past which
have never produced any change in this situation, which is... a struggle
- He also alleged that some "fraud and force"
had boosted turnout in certain pockets.
- Kashmir's chief election officer Pramod Jain had said
there were no reports of coercion during voting Tuesday. He reported a
preliminary overall turnout of 42 percent, seven percentage points less
than in the previous assembly vote in the same three districts in 1996.
- "It has been peaceful, by and large violence-free,
and quite smooth," Jain told reporters.
- India is hoping the elections will serve as a showcase
for democracy in the state, where more than 36,500 people have died since
1989 in the insurgency against New Delhi's rule.
- India's Deputy Prime Minister Lal Krishna Advani said
the massacre of at least 30 worshipers at a Hindu temple in the western
state of Gujarat was linked to the polls.
- "I can say that they (the attackers) think the developments
in Jammu and Kashmir will strengthen India and so to divert attention,
a big incident will be beneficial to them. I see in it a very deliberate
design," Advani said.
- Bhat rejected Advani's assertion, saying Kashmir and
Gujarat were not linked when Hindu mobs killed hundreds of Muslims in riots
that broke out in late February after an attack by Muslims on a train carrying
- "Gujarat was not linked to Kashmir when Muslims
fell to the carnage of Hindu fundamentalists and Hindu extremists. It has
nothing to do with Kashmir," Bhat said.
- Some Indian officials have called the "success"
of the elections a sign that India should reject any talks with the Hurriyat.
- But Kashmir's chief Muslim cleric Omar Farooq called
the poll boycott in Srinagar "a vindication of the Hurriyat Conference's
stand," noting that the separatists had not gone door-to-door asking
people not to vote.
- "The majority of people have given a very clear
message that the Kashmir problem is not only related to elections, as the
government of India is trying to project," said Farooq, who founded
the Hurriyat in 1993.
- Two more rounds of voting are scheduled for October 1
and October 8.
- The polls Tuesday included the constituency of India's
32-year-old junior foreign minister Omar Abdullah, who is hoping to succeed
his father as Kashmir's chief minister.
- Farooq suggested that many voters who did turn out Tuesday
were trying to oust Abdullah's National Conference party.
- "In both cases," whether people voted or not,
"it's a vote against India because (those who turned out) were voting
against the National Conference," he said. "I hope the outcome
is an eye-opener."
- Copyright © 2002 AFP. All rights reserved. All information
displayed in this section (dispatches, photographs, logos) are protected
by intellectual property rights owned by Agence France-Presse. As a consequence
you may not copy, reproduce, modify, transmit, publish, display or in any
way commercially exploit any of the contents of this section without the
prior written consent of Agence France-Presses.