Bihar polls: 53% turnout in 2nd phase

Despite Maosits threat 98.44 lakh electorate cast their votes in 45 Assembly constituencies.

Patna: Defying a poll boycott call by Maoists, voter turnout in the second of six-phase elections in Bihar on Sunday was robust recording around 53 percent amid stray
incidents of violence in which three poll officials were kidnapped by the rebels.

The three poll personnel held captive by the Maoists from Subaigarh booth in Runisaidpur assembly constituency in Bihar`s Sitamarhi district were later released unharmed, Director General of Police Neelmani told a news agency tonight.

The personnel--presiding officer Baldeo Prasad Yadav, KN Sigh and Satyendra Patel--had gone to the booths early today without taking the BSF force allocated for the booth, he said.

Heavily-armed Maoist cadre raided the polling centre (116) and burnt down the Electronic Voting Machines and other materials early this morning before polling began,
Superintendent of Police Rakesh Rathi told a news agency.

Polling was held in 45 Assembly constituencies spread over six districts, some of them affected by Naxal menace. The districts were East Champaran, Sheohar, Sitamarhi, Darbhanga, Muzaffarpur and Samastipur. A total of 623 candidates, including 46 women, were in the fray today.

The first phase recorded 53 percent voting.

"The polling percentage recorded at 5 pm was 52.55 percent which may go up as some people were still in queues to cast their vote," Deputy Election Commissioner Vinod Zutshi said in New Delhi.

The elections were held under the threat of Naxal violence and in the shadow of last Friday`s landmine blast in Sheohar district by Maoists in which six policemen were
killed. The attack prompted the EC to reduce voting time by two hours in Sheohar and Belsand constituencies which witnessed a heavy turnout.

Stray incidents of violence occurred in Sitamarhi, Muzaffarpur and Darbhanga districts. Heavily-armed Maoists raided a polling centre at Subaigarh in Runisaidpur
constituency and burnt down the electronic voting machines besides other materials early this morning before voting began, SP Rakesh Rathi told a news agency.

The three polling personnel went missing after the incident, Returning Officer for the seat Shivdani Singh said.

Substitute polling materials, including EVMs, and poll personnel were rushed to the booth and voting began as per schedule, Singh said.

Voters` defiance of the poll boycott call was evident as better than expected turnout was recorded in all five Maoist-affected seats. While Paroo recorded 62 percent voting, Sahebganj registered 52 percent, Minapur 53.72 percent, Sheohar 49 percent and Belsand 48 percent.

Maoist posters asking voters to boycott the poll had appeared on government buildings and polling stations in East Champaran, Sheohar, Sitamarhi and Muzaffarpur districts.

In another incident, the vehicle of state JD(U) minister Dinesh Prasad Kushwaha was attacked allegedly by supporters of an Independent candidate Madhavi Chandra at a place under Minapur Assembly constituency in Muzaffarpur district, official sources said.

An FIR was lodged against Madhvi Chandra in this connection in the attack in which Kushwaha escaped unhurt, while his bodyguard was injured, they said.

Security was stepped up by sealing off the Bihar-Nepal border and intensified patrolling and air surveillance, Director General of Police Neelmani said.

He said 118 preventive arrests were made for a smooth conduct of the polling.


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