Srinagar: Hundreds of protesters chanting pro-independence slogans clashed with soldiers in the city on Wednesday, the last day of voting in state elections.
At least nine people were injured when troops fired tear gas shells and used bamboo batons to stop the protesters marching to the centre of Srinagar, a police officer said on condition of anonymity in keeping with department policy.
Separatists have urged residents to protest and boycott the poll, saying the election will only strengthen India’s hold on the Himalayan region.
Final leg: Thousands of troops patrolled the streets and guarded polling stations during the seventh phase of voting in the state. Fayaz Kabli / Reuters
The elections, which began 17 November, were held in seven phases. The results are expected to be announced on 28 December.
The staggered balloting allowed the government to deploy thousands of security forces in each area in a bid to prevent the deadly violence sparked by elections in 2002 and thwart separatist attempts to enforce the boycott.
Voting in earlier stages of the election was largely peaceful, with a higher-than-expected turnout of around 60%.
Nevertheless, voter turnout was low Wednesday in Srinagar, where authorities banned gatherings exceeding five people to thwart possible protests, the police officer said.
Thousands of government troops patrolled the streets and guarded polling stations.
“How can we vote for the candidates who are being protected by soldiers who have killed thousands of Kashmiris,” said Shabir Ahmed, a protester in Srinagar.
In Muslim-majority areas in Srinagar, voter turnout was about 20%. It was about 70% in Hindu-majority areas in Jammu, said B.R. Sharma, the state’s chief election officer.
Some 1.6 million of the state’s roughly 6.5 million eligible voters live in the areas voting Wednesday.