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NE trio nails turnout fears

Feb. 26: Belying predictions of a low turnout, voters in Tripura, Nagaland and Meghalaya today came out in large numbers to cast votes in Assembly elections marred by random disruption of polling and the deaths of eight people, including five BSF personnel, in three incidents.

The turnout in Tripura, where the bullet was expected to hold sway over the ballot, was the highest among the three northeastern states and one south Assam constituency that went to polls. A preliminary estimate by the state election department pegged the turnout at close to 80 per cent.

In Nagaland, about 75 per cent of the electorate came out to vote in spite of the tension-filled build-up to the elections. Meghalaya did not have to contend with violence by militants, but recorded the lowest turnout of 55 per cent.

Militants of the banned National Liberation Front of Tripura (NLFT) were quiet for the better part of the day, but struck before the end of polling in the troubled state. They ambushed a vehicle carrying security personnel at Shantarampara in West Tripura district, killing five of them and the civilian driver on the spot. Five more persons were injured in the attack.

A 10-year-old girl, identified as Rakhi Deb, was seriously injured when an acid bulb exploded in front of her house in the Indranagar locality of Agartala town.

Poll-related violence claimed two lives in Nagaland. One of these incidents occurred at Changtongya village of Mokokchung district. There were also reports of militants firing in the air to scare away voters and damaging electronic voting machines in Mokokchung district. Polling will be conducted afresh in 16 booths on Friday.

A few hours before the start of polling, a police team raided a house in the Agri Colony of Kohima and shot dead a member of the NSCN (I-M). Three more activists of the outfit were taken into custody.

Chief minister S.C. Jamir, who had warned of interference by the NSCN (I-M) in the electoral process immediately after the ban on the outfit lapsed, said at the end of polling that militants assaulted Congress activists in several constituencies.

Congress leaders in Tripura complained similarly about the CPM. They accused activists of the ruling party of rigging elections in Sonamura, Boxanagar and Nalchhar under Sonamura subdivision and Khayerpur, Mazlishpur and Ramnagar under Sadar subdivision .

AICC secretaries Wasim Ahmed and Hanumanta Rao said they would decide whether to demand repolling in these constituencies after receiving more reports from party units.

Tripura’s chief electoral officer Debasish Sarkar, however, expressed satisfaction over the manner in which the elections were conducted. “Polling was peaceful barring a few incidents.”

In the byelection to the Ratabari Assembly seat of Assam, an estimated 65 per cent of the electorate cast their votes. Polling was trouble-free throughout the constituency, official sources said.

Sarkar’s Meghalaya counterpart P.S. Thankhie said in Shillong that polling in Madanriting was affected by a faulty electronic voting machine. He has recommended repolling in the booth on Friday.

Except for a booth-capturing incident at Nongtalang in the Jaintia Hills district, polling ended without a hitch in Meghalaya, director-general of police L. Sailo said.

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