Over 50 per cent turnout in Bengal despite Maoist threat

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Kolkata, Apr 17 (UNI) Braving Maoist threat and heat, more than 50 per cent votes were cast till 1430 hrs as massive number of voters turned up to exercise their franchise in most of the polling stations of the Maoist-affected Purulia, Bankura and West Midnapore districts in the first phase of polling in West Bengal today.

Chief Electoral Officer (CEO) Debasish Sen said the polling was peaceful and brisk and sponatenous.

" The polling is going on smoothly and there has been no report of untoward incident, " he said.

Deputy Election Commissioner Anand Kumar said there was no allegation of any malpractice or any report of violence.

However, according to reports, received from the districts, very thin turnout was recorded in a number of remote booths at Belpahari, Banspahari, Binpur, Kankrajhor, Lalgarh and Goaltor of West Midnapore district, worst-affected by Maoist violence, though massive number of voters thronged the booths at Chhoto Angaria and Salboni of West Midnapore and Purulia's Bandwan, where the extremists had killed CPI(M) leader Rabindranath Kar and triggered a landmine blast.

Polling was normal also in Bandwan of Purulia district, another hotbed of the Maoists, while 80 per cent votes had already been cast at Amlasol of West Midnapore, where five persons had allegedly died of starvation last year.

The underground outfit had called for boycotting polls in some areas of these three districts.

People boycotted vote in four booths of Purulia under Raghunathpur, Arsha and Jaipur Assembly constituencies and three other booths of Bankura and West Midnapore in protest against lack of development.

With two helicopters making aerial vigil in the extremist -dominated areas, about 60 companies of Central Para Military Force jawnas had been deployed across the three districts, guarding every polling booth, patrolling and conducting landmine detection along with the state police.

The security cover was unprecedented in Belpahari, bordering Jharkhand and Orissa, the hotbed of Maoist activities.

Polling remained suspended for about an hour in 50 booths of Purulia district after Electronic Voting Machine developed snag.

However, polling resumed after the machines were replaced.

A Bankura report said a voter was killed when he was runover by a car of the Election Commission at Bishnupur in Bankura district.

A report from West Midnapore said a Presiding Officer was manhandled by central force jawans at a booth in Khanakuri village of Nayagram that triggered commotion. However, normalcy returned soon in the area.

West Bengal Pradesh Congress Working president Pradip Bhattacharjee alleged that CPI(M) workers had kicked up disturbances in some booths of Sabong constituency of West Midnapore, though the CEO denied having knowledge of any such incident.

CPI(M) state committee Secretary and Left Front Committee Chairman Biman Bose said the polling was going on smoothly with the administration and the Election Commission discharging duties in close cooperation.

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