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AFP
November 29, 2020

Tough security for IIOJK first polls since autonomy cancelled

Top Story

AFP
November 29, 2020

SRINAGAR: Thousands of troops guarded polling stations as Indian Illegal Occupied Jammu &Kashmir (IIOJK) Saturday held its first direct elections since the government stripped its semi-autonomy last year.

On high alert for attacks by freedom fighters, dozens of police and paramilitaries with machine guns watched outside each polling station while army patrols toured the streets.

The Himalayan region, which is also claimed by Pakistan, has been under heavy security since the ruling Hindu-nationalist government imposed direct rule in August 2019.

Officials said nearly 52 percent of the 700,000 eligible voters cast ballots during the first of the eight days of polling, braving the security, coronavirus fears and snow-covered terrain to elect local council members. Results are expected on December 22.

Thermal scanners were set up at polling booths and staff handed out face masks and hand sanitizers as precautions against the coronavirus.

Top election official KK Sharma told reporters that polling had been peaceful barring “a small incident of stone pelting” by protesters in the southern Kashmir valley.

At one booth, Faizi, 70, told AFP she had voted “to facilitate development work, like paving the roads”.

While the councils have only limited powers, several Kashmir political parties, including the influential National Conference and People’s Democratic Party (PDP) formed an alliance to use the election to campaign for the restoration of the region’s political autonomy. The alliance accused the government of harassing its candidates while helping those from the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party. The election commission denied the allegations. On Friday, authorities restricted PDP leader Mehbooba Mufti to her home and police stopped reporters from attending a press conference she called. Mufti was among scores of political leaders held under house arrest for months after the clampdown. Police, however, denied she was under detention again.