Polls close in second phase of Indian elections

Indian officials reported turnout higher than 60 percent across 13 states where voting took place.

    Thousands of troops were deployed to guard the vote in Kashmir, although turnout was less than 8 percent [Mukhtar Khan/AP]
    Thousands of troops were deployed to guard the vote in Kashmir, although turnout was less than 8 percent [Mukhtar Khan/AP]

    Polls have closed in the second phase of India's general election amid a heightened security presence in parts of Indian-administered Kashmir.

    Officials said the turnout was more than 60 percent across 13 Indian states where voting took place on Thursday.

    Separatist leaders earlier urged a boycott of the vote in Kashmir, calling the elections an illegitimate exercise under military occupation.

    A majority of residents heeded the calls for a boycott, with around only 8 percent turnout reported in Srinagar, the main city in Indian-administered Kashmir, according to provisional Election Commission data.

    Anti-India protests and clashes erupted at several places during the voting, officials said. At least four people were injured when government forces fired bullets, shotguns and tear gas to quell protests by stone-throwing residents.

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    "This is not our vote. Our vote will be on the day we're allowed to exercise a plebiscite" on Kashmir's status, Intizar Ahmed, a young trader in Srinagar, told the Associated Press news agency.

    Another resident, Abdul Hamid, said he only voted in the hope that a Kashmiri representative in India's Parliament will seek a resolution of the disputed region's status.

    Authorities shut down mobile internet service and closed some roads with steel barricades and razor wire as soldiers and police in riot gear patrolled the streets.

    However, people voted briskly as long queues of men and women were seen in Kashmir's Hindu-dominated Udhampur constituency, where turnout was roughly 65 percent, officials said.

    Prime Minister Narendra Modi has made Kashmir one of the top issues in his campaign and played up the threat of rival Pakistan, especially after a February suicide bombing that killed over 40 soldiers in Pulwama. The bombing brought nuclear rivals India and Pakistan on the brink of war.

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    The first phase of polls saw low voter turnout in the disputed region, which has witnessed renewed violence in recent years.

    Crucial southern states

    The main opposition Congress party and its allies need to win big in the southern states of Tamil Nadu and Karnataka if they hope to defeat Modi's Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP).

    "If the non-BJP parties perform well in these two states, then they would still be having a chance of forming a non-BJP government at the centre," said Sanjay Kumar, director of the Centre for the Study of Developing Societies, a think-tank based in the capital, New Delhi.

    Modi and his party played to their nationalist, Hindu-first base in an aggressive campaign, attacking rivals they accuse of appeasing minorities.

    Critics say such divisive rhetoric threatens India's secular foundations.

    "Communal polarisation is the biggest issue for me," said Rakesh Mehar, who voted in the technology hub of Bengaluru, the capital of Karnataka. "And the growing intolerance in the country is what worries me the most."

    Votes will be counted on May 23 and the results are expected the same day.

    SOURCE: News agencies