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Red stain on happy ending

- 7 feared killed in Maoist ambush

Dumka/Ranchi, April 24: At least seven members of a polling team are feared killed in tribal heartland Dumka in a Maoist ambush this evening, the grave intelligence failure marring the otherwise almost blemish-free three-day polls in Jharkhand marked by a significant hike in voter turnout across 14 seats.

Some 50 Maoists apparently triggered a landmine blast and opened fire at a mini bus (Tata 707) comprising a polling party at Asana village, 40km from district headquarters in Shikaripara police station area at 4.30pm.

The personnel, comprising both armed police and poll officials, were returning from booth No. 33 in Sarsajore village. They had travelled only 2km from the booth when they were attacked. There is no word yet on the fate of the EVMs they were bringing back.

Home secretary N.N. Pandey confirmed the attack, saying, “Special branch officers have said five policemen and two poll personnel have been killed. Two have been admitted to hospital with injuries.”

Chief minister Hemant Soren, speaking to a local television channel in Dumka, said he wanted to rush to the spot but added it might hinder security operations. “I am in touch with the police and I know that the CRPF has reached there. But the names of the dead and injured are yet to be confirmed,” Hemant said.

IG (provisions) and police spokesperson Anurag Gupta said: “I can’t confirm the figure. Reports of casualties are coming in. The area is remote. Three ambulances have been pressed into service. It seems CRPF personnel had an encounter with Maoists.”

Just before the attack, poll officials across Dumka were tabulating projected poll turnout. It reflected 64 per cent, the encouraging number no doubt the fallout of the high-octane contest between heavyweights Shibu Soren and Babulal Marandi amid talk of a NaMo wave.

The third round of polls in the state gave an overall 13 point rise to voting figures with projected poll per cent of 63 (figures till 5pm). In 2009, the overall per cent was 50.97.