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Tripura votes peacefully, defies rebel boycott call

Defying rebel call for boycotting polls, large number of people voted under tight security in Tripura.
PTI | By Press Trust of India, Agartala
UPDATED ON APR 22, 2004 08:33 PM IST

Hundreds of thousands of people voted in national elections under a tight security vigil in the disturbed northeastern state of Tripura on Thursday, defying a rebel call for boycotting the polls.

Despite fears of violence by separatist groups, people turned up in large numbers to cast their votes at polling stations by using electronic voting machines, as bright sunshine blessed most part of the 10-hour polling.

By the time the ballot ended at 5 pm, election officials expected a turnout of an estimated 65 percent of the 1.97 million voters eligible to vote in this state bordering Bangladesh.

Tripura has a population of 3.2 million.

"The polling was largely peaceful except for an exchange of fire between a group of rebels and the paramilitary," Tripura police chief GM Srivastava said.

"Voters largely ignored the boycott call issued by a rebel group. The poll percentage can be anything between 63 and 65 per cent."

Srivastava said the shootout between the troops and rebels belonging to the All Tripura Tiger Force (ATTF) took place near Mandai, 45 km east of the Tripura capital.

The ATTF, engaged in an armed campaign since the eighties for a separate homeland for the state's minority tribes people, had asked the voters to boycott the polls.

"I flew over rebel-infested areas in the morning and saw long queues of voters. They have clearly defied the ATTF poll boycott call," the police chief said with satisfaction.

Though peace largely prevailed, the political atmosphere remained heated as the opposition Congress accused the ruling Communist Party of India-Marxist (CPI-M) of rigging the polls.

"The CPI-M cadres are rigging the polls and have threatened our polling agents," Tripura Congress vice president Tapas Dey alleged.

Police chief Srivastava said there were some altercations between supporters of rival parties in the Dharamnagar area, but things had been sorted out.

Tripura, which has an 850-km-long porous border with Bangladesh, has two seats in the 543-member lower house of parliament and is among the few Marxist bastions in India other than West Bengal.

The CPI-M won both the parliamentary seats from Tripura during the 1999 elections.

Besides the CPI-M, the Bharatiya Janata Party, the Congress and the Trinamool Congress are some of the major parties that have put up candidates for the two seats this time.

An estimated 25,000 police and paramilitary men have been deployed to ensure a free and fair poll in a total of 2,372 polling stations across the state.

Additional paramilitary Border Security Force (BSF) personnel have been positioned along the border with Bangladesh to prevent trans-border movement of rebels and anti-social elements.

Besides the ATTF, another rebel group, the National Liberation Front of Tripura (NLFT), is active in the state, carrying out a violent campaign for an independent tribal homeland.

Last week, two NLFT factions entered into a ceasefire agreement with the Indian government.

The remaining phases of the staggered national election will be held on April 26, May 5 and May 10. The verdict is likely on May 13.

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