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West Bengal Panchayat Polls: Two die; 70 percent turnout in last phase
Thursday July 25, 2013 11:27 PM, IANS

Two people died while an average 70 percent voters exercised their democratic rights amid reports of sporadic violence during the fifth and final phase of the West Bengal panchayat polls Thursday.

An old voter collapsed and died while standing in the queue for long in the oppressive heat and humidity, while a CPI-M worker was killed in an attack.

At the scheduled closing time - 5 p.m - the polling percentage was 70.43 in Cooch Behar, 78.50 in South Dinajpur, 70.37 in Jalpaiguri and 63.17 in North Dinajpur district, said a State Election Commission official in Kolkata.

With long queues still outside a large number of booths and voting process likely to continue till late into the night, the turnout is likely to go up.

Despite the tough weather conditions, voters, especially women, queued up outside polling booths since morning.

The elements though claimed a life. Narendra Barman collapsed and died after standing for long in a queue under hot and humid conditions outside a polling booth in Jaleswar of Jalpaiguri district.

His family members alleged that despite being ill and feeble, some party activists forced him to go to cast his vote.

In Itahar of North Dinajpur district, Communist Party of India-Marxist (CPI-M) worker Abdul Aziz was killed after he was attacked allegedly by goons patronised by the ruling Trinamool Congress. The death count since round one of the polls July 11 now stands at 24.

Clashes between supporters and activists of the Congress, Trinamool and the CPI-M were reported from various parts, resulting in injuries to many people.

Police fired two rounds in the air at a booth in Raiganj of North Dinajpur following clashes between Congress and CPI-M workers. The Congress accused the CPI-M activists of carrying away a ballot box, but the Marxists denied the allegation.

Trinamool leader and North Bengal Development Minister Gautam Deb accused the opposition Left Front activists of indulging in violence and trying to capture polling booths in some areas.

He also claimed scores of his partymen have been injured in clashes across the four districts.

The CPI-M too said that Trinamool-patronised goons attacked and left at least 50 of its workers injured.

Four members of the Revolutionary Socialist Party, a constituent of the Left Front, were reportedly injured in a clash with the activists of the ruling Trinamool at Mainaguri of Jalpaiguri district.

There were allegations of opposition polling agents being driven out, booth capturing, proxy voting and other electoral malpractices from all the four districts.

Both the Congress and the Left Front have blamed the state government for the poll related violence and the resultant loss of life, and accused the ruling Trinamool of infringing the democratic rights of the people.

"Despite repeated pleas by various political parties, the state government has deliberately underutilised the central forces and the result is the widespread violence," said state Congress president Pradip Bhattacharya.

Left Front chairman Biman Bose accused the state government of setting an "unholy example for democracy by turning the polls into a farce".

Overall, the region is witnessing a triangular contest involving the Congress, the Left Front and the Trinamool.

About 64 lakh voters were eligible to choose 7,342 zilla parishad (district council), panchayat samiti and gram panchayat nominees in 7,961 polling booths in the four districts. About 28,591 candidates were in the fray.

The State Election Commission requisitioned 53 companies of central armed police forces besides personnel from the state police force for the final round.

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