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Bullets fly at ballot-snatchers
- Municipal voters brave rain, turnout put at 80 per cent

Calcutta, June 22: Police firing, lathicharge and booth-jamming interspersed the elections to 13 municipalities across the state today.

State election commissioner Ajoy Sinha said nearly 80 per cent polling by the seven lakh electorate was recorded. Braving the rains in Burdwan, Guskara, Chakda, Alipurduar, Balurghat, Dalkhola and Mekhligunge, voters queued up for long hours at booths since morning to exercise their franchise.

Counting will begin on Tuesday and the results are expected that afternoon.

Police had to open fire at Panihati in North 24-Parganas to disperse a group of youths when they tried to snatch ballot boxes from a booth.

Officials said trouble started around 11.15 am when the youths, said to be CPM supporters, raided a booth in ward 14. A clash ensued when Congress and Trinamul Congress agents protested. The police fired two rounds in the air to bring the situation under control.

Superintendent of police Basudeb Bag said though no complaint was lodged about snatching of ballot boxes, police personnel opened fire to prevent any untoward incident.

District CPM secretary Amitava Bose denied the allegation about his party workers. The Trinamal Congress, fearing an electoral rout, are levelling false charges at our party, he said.

In adjoining Garulia and Halisahar municipalities, 12 people were arrested on charges of casting false votes.

Police again came into the picture at Burdwan when a mob jammed the booth at CMS school on G.T. Road this morning. Seven CPM workers were injured in a lathicharge.

Burdwan CPM secretary Amal Halder alleged that the police had acted without provocation. We have lodged a complaint with inspector-general of police, western range, Gautam Chakraborty against the DIG, Burdwan range, who ordered the lathicharge, he added.

Tension gripped some booths of the Diamond Harbour municipality in South 24-Parganas when Party for Democratic Socialism secretary Samir Putatunda complained that a PDS agent had been beaten up by CPM activists. District officials denied the allegation.

In West Midnapore, the administration had a tough time as Congress workers complained that the CPM had brought in people from outside to rig the poll. In Nadia, polling was a tame affair since the principal Opposition parties, Trinamul and the Congress, boycotted the election in protest against atrocities by the CPM.

With the Opposition staying away, CPM candidates were virtually elected unopposed in 13 of the 20 wards. The Congress contested only seven seats.

At Balurghat, where the RSP had put up candidates against Left Front partner CPM, over 85 per cent polling was recorded. Its unfortunate that we are fighting the CPM nominees due to lack of unity. We are confident people will vote for us to protest against the CPMs high-handedness, said RSP secretary Debabrata Bandopadhyay.

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