Maoists attack in eastern India as Indian elections begin

Maoist rebels continued their attacks on security forces Thursday, killing six security personnel on election duty in eastern India as voting began in the first phase of month-long staggered general elections.

   The first round of voting is being held in 124 constituencies in 15 states and two federally administered territories.

   These include at least 40 sensitive constituencies in areas affected by a Maoist insurgency in central, eastern and southern India.

   The Maoist rebels, who have called to boycott the elections attacked a bus carrying Border Security Force troopers in Latehar district of the eastern state of Jharkhand in the early hours of Thursday, the PTI news agency reported.

   Six troopers were feared killed as rebels attacked the bus with bombs in the Chanduwa-Hesla area, about 125 kilometres north-west of Jharkhand's capital Ranchi, Latehar district official Shivendu Tathagat was quoted as saying.

   More than 30 security personnel were killed by Maoists over the past week as the rebels upped attacks aimed at disrupting the elections.

   "We have deployed more than 200,000 security personnel to maintain peace during the elections," said SY Qureshi, a member of India's Election Commission.

   "We are fearing some problems here and there but we are prepared," Qureshi said. "We have told officials not to endanger themselves and to retreat if attacked. Their lives are precious. We can do a repoll."

   There was also a report of an attempted attack by Maoist on a polling booth in south Bastar area of Chhattisgarh state early Thursday. "Forces managed to repel the attack," a local police official was quoted as saying by CNN-IBN news channel.

   Many of the constituencies in Thursday's balloting are located in the volatile Maoist belt of central, southern and eastern India, the restive north-east and militancy-hit Jammu and Kashmir.

   Extra forces have also been deployed in Kandhamal district of Orissa, which saw communal violence between Hindus and Christians in 2008.

   Special arrangements have been made to enable people to vote who fled their villages during the violence and now live in temporary camps.

   Television channels reported moderate turnout across the country a couple of hours after balloting began.

   There are 1,715 candidates contesting in the first phase, including 122 women.

   Leading candidates in Thursday's fray include federal Railways Minister Laloo Prasad Yadav who is contesting from his home state Bihar and former United Nations diplomat Shashi Tharoor, who is contesting in Kerala.

   The states where elections are being held Thursday are Andhra Pradesh, Arunachal Pradesh, Assam, Bihar, Jammu and Kashmir, Kerala, Maharashtra, Manipur, Meghalaya, Mizoram, Nagaland, Orissa, Uttar Pradesh, Chhattisgarh and Jharkhand.

   The federally administered territories are the Andaman and Nicobar islands and Lakshwadeep.

   Simultaneous elections to state legislatures are being held in Orissa and Andhra Pradesh.

   The next phase of voting is scheduled for April 23, followed by April 30, May 7 and May 13.

   The results are expected on May 16, reported dpa.

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