SRINAGAR (AFP) - Five civilians were killed in Indian-administered Kashmir on Sunday (April 9) when police opened fire at protesters who stormed polling stations during a by-election for a parliamentary seat, a top officer said.
State and paramilitary police fired bullets and shotgun pellets as thousands of protesters shouting slogans against Indian rule charged into voting booths in Budgam district near the main city of Srinagar.
"Violent protests happened at many places in Budgam. Protesters damaged and snatched EVMs (electronic voting machines) at some places," Mr Shantmanu, the state's chief electoral officer, told AFP. "Five persons have died so far in the violence."
In the Charare-e-Sharif area of Budgam, two people were killed when the paramilitary Border Security Force fired at protesters, he said.
In the Beerwah area of the same district, the paramilitary police opened fire at a stone-throwing crowd, killing another person.
Two more were killed in the continuing clashes, with one of them succumbing to multiple pellet injuries from the shotguns which Indian paramilitary forces use in Kashmir for crowd control.
Polling had to be halted in at least 10 places amid a call by top Kashmiri separatist leaders opposed to Indian rule to boycott the by-election.
Former state chief minister Farooq Abdullah, who is contesting the Srinagar seat, slammed the government for its failure to maintain law and order.
"Elections should have been peaceful. This government has failed in giving a peaceful atmosphere for people to come and vote," he told reporters.
Ahead of the polling, the authorities suspended Internet services across the Kashmir Valley for fear of widespread protests.
The police had also detained hundreds of young people and separatist activists in the run-up to the poll, sources told AFP.
Kashmir has been divided between India and Pakistan since the end of British rule in 1947. Both claim the disputed territory in its entirety. Rebel groups in Indian Kashmir have for decades battled troops and police, demanding independence or a merger of the territory with Pakistan.
Around 500,000 Indian soldiers are deployed in the region. Ahead of Sunday's polls, the Indian government had sent in 20,000 additional paramilitaries.
Armed encounters between rebels and government forces have become more frequent since the killing of a popular rebel leader by security forces last July sparked widespread unrest. Police and army officials say dozens of local youths have joined the rebel ranks since then.
At least 29 armed militants, mostly locals, have died fighting government forces this year.