Seven killed, four children injured in Bengal panchayat polls' fourth round

Kolkata, July 22 (IANS) West Bengal's countryside bled Monday as seven people were killed and several - including four children - injured in the penultimate round of the panchayat polls marred by bomb blasts, firings, violent clashes and allegations of electoral malpractices.

However, despite the gory scenes, there were heavy turnouts at the polling booths. An average 74.16 percent exercised their voting right till 5 p.m., the scheduled time for balloting to end, said a State Election Commission official.

The number can only go up, as a large number of people were standing in the queues well past the closing time in the four districts - Murshidabad, Birbhum, Malda and Nadia - hosting round four of the polls to village councils, regarded as the third tier of India's governing system.

Three deaths were reported from Murshidabad, two from Birbhum, and one each in Nadia and Malda districts, officials said.

Two of the dead were voters, and the others either political activists or criminals, in what is largely being perceived as a triangular contest zone, where besides the ruling Trinamool Congress and main opposition Communist Party of India-Marxist (CPI-M) led Left Front, the Congress also has a strong base.

The violence did not even spare innocent little ones.

A five-year-old boy was hospitalised with injuries when bombs were hurled near his house at Dakkhinnagar village under Domkol police station in Murshidabad.

Three other children - between four to seven years - were injured in a bomb explosion while playing in the courtyard of the house of a Trinamool candidate at Lalutola village under Kaliachak police station of Malda district.

While the family members claimed bombs were hurled at the house, one of the child victims said they saw some "balls" while playing when they opened the door of the house.

"One of my friend Ajij said these are bombs. Then they exploded," said Mamud Sheikh, injured in the leg, in visible trauma, and labouring to speak.

In Murshidabad, two men were killed while making bombs at Raninagar.

A woman, who had queued up to vote, died when bombs were thrown outside a polling booth in Kajishah village under Beldanga police station.

The body of two CPI-M workers were recovered from a field under the Mayureshwar police station in Birbhum district Monday morning. Another seriously injured worker has been hospitalised.

The CPI-M blamed the ruling party for the deaths. However, the Trinamool said the victims were making bombs which exploded, claiming their lives. One person was killed in a bomb explosion early Monday in Mayapur of Nadia district.

In Malda, a voter standing in the queue was killed at Sambalpur village of Ratua block when Central Reserve Police Force personnel opened fire to control a mob.

Murshidabad police chief Humayun Kabir said bombs were hurled at Domkol and Beldanga to terrorise the people. "We have seized 100 bombs, and muskets. Over 100 have been arrested."

The CPI-M-led Left Front accused the Trinamool of indulging in rigging and booth capturing in Nadia and Birbhum districts.

"It seems those from the state administration who were put on poll duty had no intention of ensuring free and fair polling. Democracy is under attack," said LF chairman and CPI-M state secretary Biman Bose.

Trinamool Congress leader Derek O'Brien however said the casualties reported during the day presented an "exaggerated figure"..

"Some of them died late in night yesterday (Sunday) and early in the morning. Trinamool is in no way responsible for these incidents."

Blaiming the Trinamool for the spiraling violence, state Congress spokesperson Abdul Mannan said it was resorting to "unfair means" to cling to power after "losing" popular support.

The five-phase polling began July 11. The final round will be held July 25. The vote count is slated for July 29.

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