SRINAGAR, India (AP) — Local council elections ended in Indian-controlled Kashmir on Tuesday, with most voters staying away in Muslim-dominated areas of the disputed region. The last phase of the four-phased elections saw less than…
SRINAGAR, India (AP) — Local council elections ended in Indian-controlled Kashmir on Tuesday, with most voters staying away in Muslim-dominated areas of the disputed region.
The last phase of the four-phased elections saw less than 4 percent of eligible voters go to the polls Tuesday in the region’s main city of Srinagar and neighboring Ganderbal town.
Shops and businesses closed in the areas where voting occurred on a call by separatist leaders who challenge India’s sovereignty over Kashmir.
Anti-India protests and clashes erupted at some places in Srinagar, where government forces fired tear gas and shotgun pellets at stone-throwing protesters. There were no immediate reports of injuries.
The overall voting percentage for all four phases in the Kashmir valley, the heartland of anti-India dissent, was less than 6 percent. In Hindu-dominated areas of Jammu, the polling was generally brisk at about 68 percent.
India says the polls are a vital grassroots exercise to boost development and address civic issues. Political separatist leaders and armed rebel groups called for a boycott, saying the polls are an illegitimate exercise under military occupation.
Nearly 1.7 million residents are registered as voters for the urban polls. Village council elections will be held separately in November.
According to officials, 244 candidates were selected unopposed and there were no candidates for 178 out of a total of 1,145 council seats.
Kashmir’s main pro-India political parties such as the National Conference and Peoples Democratic Party also boycotted the polls, accusing New Delhi of fiddling with Kashmir’s special status in the Indian Constitution.
Some people also withdrew from the elections after armed rebels threatened candidates and accused them of being “traitors and sellers of martyrs’ blood.”
Authorities deployed more than 40,000 additional soldiers to guard the voting.
Kashmir is divided between India and Pakistan, and both countries claim it in its entirety. Rebel groups demand that Kashmir be united either under Pakistani rule or as an independent country.
Anti-India sentiment runs deep in Kashmir’s mostly Muslim population and most people support the rebels’ cause against Indian rule.
Nearly 70,000 people have been killed in the uprising and the ensuing Indian military crackdown.