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Kashmiris defy boycott call, winter cold to vote in large numbers
Tuesday December 2, 2014 9:18 PM, IANS

People defied a boycott call by separatist groups and turned up in large numbers Tuesday to vote in the second of the five-phase assembly elections in Jammu and Kashmir.

A turnout of 71 percent was recorded in the 18 constituencies that voted Tuesday, Chief Electoral Officer (CEO) Umang Narula said at a media conference in Jammu.

"The overall voter turnout is likely to increase as long queues of voters were still waiting to cast their votes in many places. Polling remained peaceful, and no untoward incident of any significance was reported from anywhere," he said.

The army foiled an infiltration bid on the Line of Control (LoC) in Kupwara district early in the morning when voters of this border district were queueing up at polling booths.

A group of 5-8 heavily armed guerrillas tried to infiltrate into Nowgam area. A gunfight ensued between the infiltrators and security forces, in which three militants were killed.

In Kupwara town, barely 40 km from the site of the gunfight, voters stood in long lines to cast their ballot.

People were calm and waited patiently for their turn to vote. Accompanying children played cricket at a polling station, unperturbed by the gun battle.

Narula said the highest voter turnout of 80.73 percent was recorded in Gulabgarh constituency in Reasi district, while the lowest of 36.5 percent was in Homshalibugh constituency in Kulgam district.

Karnah recorded 75 percent, Kupwara 62, Lolab 55, Handwara 71, Langate 71, Noorabad 77.6, Kukgam 55.44, Devsar 60.3, Gool Arnas 80.25, Reasi 80, Udhampur 79.74, Chenani 75.48, Ramnagar 75.19, Surankote 65, Mendhar 72 and Poonch Haveli 73.39 voter turnout.

The Election Commission had done webcasting in 178 polling stations, while 61 flying squads, 53 static observers and two excise teams were also deployed to ensure free and fair polls.

"Our flying squads seized Rs.16,33,965 in Poonch Haveli constituency today during the poll process. An inquiry is on. If the amount is found unrelated to the poll process, it will be returned to those from whom it was seized," he said.

Separatist groups gave a shutdown call as well as a call to boycott the polls. While businesses were closed at most places, voters defied the boycott call.

The weather also improved as the day progressed and a cold morning gave way to a bright sunny day.

Men and women lined up in all five polling stations in Handwara town. Many said they were voting for change that would bring employment, better healthcare, roads and schools.

"I have come out to vote for change. I have no reservations in admitting that remaining out from voting in the past compounded our day-to-day problems," 45-year-old Abdul Majeed told IANS.

In Langate constituency, voters at Kargama polling station said they also want change for development and a better tomorrow.

"Nobody did anything for us in the past. We have decided to change the beneficiaries of our democratic rights. Let's see what happens," said 48-year-old Bashir Ahmad.

"The urge to bring in change for the better is making me stand in this long queue," he told IANS.

Voters also turned up in large numbers in Udhampur, Chenani, Ramnagar and Reasi in Jammu region.

In the Kashmir Valley, the turnout was low initially due to the winter cold, but it gained momentum as the day progressed.

Over 1.5 million voters were eligible to decide the political fate of 175 candidates. Polling started at 8 a.m. and ended at 4 p.m.

The first phase of polling Nov 25 saw 70 percent voter turnout.

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