Three killed, 70-74 percent vote in Bengal panchayat polls

Kolkata, July 19 (IANS) Three people, including a teenager, were killed in violence in round three of the West Bengal panchayat elections Friday while the turnout ranged from 70 to 74 percent and was slated to increase as queues remained even after the scheduled closing of polls, officials said.

Two deaths were resported in South 24 Parganas district, and another in North 24 Parganas.

"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. The figures will go up as many people are still standing in the queue," said a State Election Commission official.

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 Trinamool worker, 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.

The rulling Trinamool Congress claimed poling was "completely free and fair", and blamed the opposition for the violence.

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

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 away voters, they alleged.

Complaining of electoral malpractices, Communist Party of India-Marxxist (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 central forces were not seen anywhere.

"The state government has declared war against democracy. It seems, their war is on. But despite the terror, the people have voted," said Mishra.

A State Election Commission official, however, 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 were held July 11 and July 15. Polling for the next rounds will be July 22 and 25. Votes will be counted July 29.

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