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Rebels fail to mar first poll

Raipur, Dec. 1: Chhattisgarh’s voters braved Naxalite threats to turn out in large numbers for the state’s first election, three years after it was carved out of Madhya Pradesh.

People’s War guerrillas looted electronic voting machines, lobbed bombs on booths, abducted poll officers and forced police into a gun battle in several places to scare away voters in Dantewara and Bastar. Narayanpur and Surguja were also affected by violence.

The worst-hit was Dantewara where the Naxalites made off with the electronic voting machines, pulling down the polling percentage below 20. Six policemen and a driver were killed in a landmine blast in the area on Saturday evening. Two poll officers were abducted.

At Ramanujganj in Surguja, however, a 65-year-old voter collapsed while exercising his franchise this morning.

Tension was palpable even elsewhere in the state, as both the BJP and the Congress mobilised volunteers in large numbers to get voters to booths. In Surguja’s Ambikapur, BJP workers led by Kashinath Tiwari battled with the police when the party challenged some voters, claiming they were outsiders.

Tension eased in Jashpur after Dilip Singh Judeo’s son was released on bail hours before the polling began. He was arrested for inciting a crowd to attack Congressmen.

Repoll was ordered in 27 booths after Naxalite raids. The number could go up further.

The violence did not impact polling in a large part of the state, with the turnout estimated at 55 to 58 per cent. In Marwahi, chief minister Ajit Jogi’s constituency, more than 60 per cent voters turned out.

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