30 pc turnout for final phase of Guj polls

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Ahmedabad, Dec 16: An estimated 25 to 30 per cent of electors today turned up to cast their votes till this noon for elections to the Gujarat Assembly being held in 95 constituencies of Central and North Gujarat, in the final phase.

No untoward incidents have been reported so far. Over 18.7 million voters, including 9.15 million women, are expected to decide the fate of 599 candidates in this phase. Official figures for exact voter turnout are not available, as the Election Commission has decided to announce it at the end of polling at a briefing later in the evening.

Long queues of voters were seen at the booths, waiting for their turn, while enjoying the chilly winter morning. First-time voters also came charged up to participate in the polling.

Senior BJP leader L K Advani, Union Textile Minister Shankersinh Vaghela and Chief Minister Narendra Modi were one of the first to cast their votes in Shahpur and Sarkhej constituencies respectively.

A confident Modi, after casting his vote, said, ''It will be a historic win for the BJP. We have the support of the people.'' Mr Advani predicted that mid-term elections were imminent as there wasa wave in favour of the BJP, sweeping the country.

However, Mr Vaghela said the heavy turnout of voters in Gujarat showed that people want a change of guard.''People are unhappy and that is why they are turning up in large numbers to vote for change.'' Mediapersons, covering the election process, were roughed up at several places, especially at Ranip, where Mr Modi came to cast his ballot.

Meanwhile, BJP legislator Jayantibhai Rathwa was arrested hours before polling after a country-made revolver and liquor bottles were found in his possession.

Also, a complaint has been lodged against state Education Minister Anandiben Patel for distributing sarees in her Patan constituency, two days back. A videographed proof of this episode was also submitted by the Congress in its complaint.

Also, BJP dissident leaders Suresh Mehta, who has now quit the party, along with other supporters Vallabh Kataria and Vasant Gajera, brother of Dhiru Gajera, who contested on COngress ticket from Porbandar, has been seen camping in Patan, to spoil Anandiben's chances at the hustings.

The polling, which began at 0800 hrs, will come to a close at 1700 hrs.

Electronic voting machines are being used at all the 20,544 polling stations, set up across these constituencies.

Elaborate security arrangements are in place to ensure smooth conduct of polls. Around 574 companies of Central para-military forces have been deployed for the purpose.

In Ahmedabad district alone, about 20,000 police and central forces have been stationed on account of the communal factor and also due to VVIPs' movement.

A total of 1.23 lakh government employees have been posted at the booths. Besides, 4830 micro observers have been stationed at key polling booths to keep a watch on irregularities. Digital cameras too have been installed at all the booths.

This time, the EVMs have been enabled with Braille for the benefit of the visually impaired.

Stakes are high for both the Congress and the BJP as the outcome of these fiercely fought elections will have an impact on national politics.

While the BJP is contesting all the 95 seats, the Congress has fielded 92 candidates. The Bahujan Samaj Party (BSP) is contesting 88 seats. There are a total of 31 women contestants.

UNI

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