Gunmen open fire on troops at Pakistan polling station

QUETTA, Pakistan (AFP) - At least six people, including two paramilitary soldiers, were shot dead on Saturday in more election-related violence in Pakistan's troubled southwest during historic polls, an official said.

Gunmen opened fire on troops near a polling station in the town of Soorab in Kalat district, 220km southwest of Quetta, the capital of insurgency-hit Balochistan province.

Two soldiers from the Frontier Corps (FC) were killed and four wounded, senior government official Akbar Hussain Durrani told AFP.

"FC troops retaliated but the attackers fled on motorbike," he said.

In Chaman, a town on the Afghan border, four other people were killed and 10 wounded in a shootout between supporters of rival election candidates, official Durrani said.

The clash took place between supporters of an independent candidate for the provincial assembly and activists from the Awami National Party (ANP), the main secular party for ethnic Pashtuns.

Voter turnout was low in the oil and gas rich province, one of the most deprived parts of Pakistan, and which suffers from sectarian, separatist and Islamist militant violence.

Voters were subject to strict body searches by police and an AFP reporter saw queues of dozens rather than hundreds of people outside Quetta polling stations.

"I want people to vote to restore peace in Quetta. We have seen dead bodies of hundreds of people shot dead in targeted killings during the last 10 years," said college student Hajra Wajahat, voting for the first time.

"Security is our major problem. There are many areas where we cannot even go because of security fears. This problem should come to an end and I want my people to move freely," she said.

Turnout, however, was higher in Quetta's Shi'ite-dominated Hazara Town.

Ethnic Hazaras, who are members of Pakistan's Shi'ite Muslim minority, were earlier this year the target of two devastating bombings in Quetta that killed nearly 200 people.

"People are scared and we have to convince them to come out of their houses to vote," said Ms Qudsia Hussain, whose husband is running for the national and provincial Balochistan assemblies for the Hazara Democratic party.

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