First phase polling begins in Chhattisgarh

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Raipur, Nov 14 (UNI) Polling in 39 assembly constituencies in the first phase of the Chhattisgarh Assembly elections began this morning amid tight security, particularly in naxalism-affected Bastar division.

Polling in Bastar's insurgency-affected belt began at 0700 hrs and will conclude at 1500 hrs while in the rest of the areas, it commenced at 0800 hrs and will end at 1700 hrs.

An electorate exceeding 6.4 million would decide the fate of 379 candidates through electronic voting machines in 7,268 polling stations spread across ten districts of the southern part of the state.

Prominent candidates are Chief Minister Raman Singh (Bharatiya Janata Party -- Rajnandgaon), Assembly Speaker Prem Prakash Pandey (BJP -- Bhilai), Leader of the Opposition Mahendra Karma (Congress -- Dantewada), his deputy Bhupesh Baghel (Cong -- Patan), Minister Hemchandra Yadav (BJP -- Durg) and former Congress minister Ravindra Choubey (Saja).

More than 40,000 security personnel have been deployed in five districts of Bastar while ten helicopters were pressed into service to carry polling teams to 247 polling stations, security personnel and even observers to avoid landmine blasts.

Inter-state borders were sealed and patrolling intensified in districts with police personnel being directed to avoid vehicles for patrolling due to the threat of landmines.

Amid a poll boycott call by Maoists in Bastar division -- comprising Dantewada, Bijapur, Bastar, Narayanpur and Kanker districts -- a curfew-like situation prevailed in rural areas.

Senior police officials said here that special security focus had been on the region by deploying 191 companies of special armed forces from Punjab, Bihar, Gujarat and Tamil Nadu, while there were 12 battalions of central paramilitary forces and two battalions each of Seema Suraksha Bal (SSB) and Chhattisgarh Armed Police.

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