Four killed in Bengal panchayat polls

Kolkata, July 19 (IANS) Four people were killed, including one in firing by central security forces, in round three of the five-phase West Bengal panchayat elections Friday.

The turnout ranged from 70 to 74 percent, and there were allegations of rigging and booth capturing, officials said.

Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee claimed, however, that polling was "peaceful".

Three deaths were reported from South 24 Parganas district, and another in North 24 Parganas district.

"Till 5 p.m., 74.45 percent polling was reported in North 24 Parganas, 70.25 percent in Howrah and 70 percent in South 24 Parganas districts," a state Election Commission official said.

As time neared for the end of the polling, the official said the turnout could be higher as large numbers of people remained in the queues.

Amal Haldar died after he was shot in the head in Mayahauri village of South 24 Parganas district as a central paramilitary trooper opened fire to control a mob which went on a rampage, in protest against the slow pace of polling, said Joynagar MLA and Socialist Unity Centre of India-Communist (SUCI-C) leader Tarun Naskar.

Naskar said Haldar was an SUCI activist.

Motherbux Mallick, a Communist Party of India-Marxist (CPI-M) supporter, died in a bomb attack while standing in the queue for voting in Bodai of Amdanga block in North 24 Parganas.

Sanat Roy, a worker of the state's ruling Trinamool Congress, was shot dead during violence in Laxmikantapur village under Usthi police station of South 24 Parganas.

The body of a teenager was found at Ghutari Sharif of the same district.

Addressing an election meeting at Rampurhat of Birbhum district, the chief minister said the third phase was peaceful, and accused the CPI-M of "crying hoarse about terror" as its plans to stall polling had failed.

Trinamool all India general secretary Mukul Roy claimed polling was "completely free and fair", and blamed the opposition for the violence.

"The elections were free and fair. Lot many more people had died in the panchayat elections in 2003 and 2008," Trinamool general secretary Mukul Roy said.

But the opposition parties charged the Trinamool with "indulging in massive rigging and booth capturing" after driving out opposition polling agents. At many areas, the Trinamool let loose a reign of terror to scare voters away, they alleged.

Complaining of electoral malpractices, Communist Party of India-Marxist (CPI-M) workers put up rail and road blocks in various parts of North 24 Parganas, stalling rail and road traffic for some time. Central paramilitary troopers and state armed police personnel removed the squatters.

CPI-M politburo member and leader of the opposition Surjya Kanta Mishra alleged that central forces were not seen anywhere.

"The state government has declared war against democracy, but despite the terror, the people have voted," Mishra said.

A state Election Commission official put the entire blame for the violence on the state government: "The SEC is responsible for whatever happens in the booths. Whatever incidents have taken place, occurred outside the polling booths. Maintaining law and order outside the booths is the responsibility of the state government."

Nearly one crore voters were eligible to elect about 13,000 representatives in 12,656 booths to the village councils, the third tier of India's electoral democracy.

Over 37,500 candidates are in the fray, with the main contest likely to be between the Trinamool Congress and the opposition Left Front led by the CPI-M.

Besides 50,000 security personnel, comprising 15,000 central paratroopers and the rest from the state armed police force, the central government has dispatched 4,500 additional reinforcements.

The first two phases of panchayat polls in the state were held July 11 and July 15.

Polling for the next rounds will be July 22 and 25, and votes will be counted July 29.

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