16 Apr 2009

Fatal attacks mar start of India elections

7:03 pm on 16 April 2009

At least 11 people, including nine Indian paramilitary troopers, have been killed in election day attacks by Maoist rebels across the east of the country.

Seven soldiers and two civilians died in the attack in the stae of Jharkhand.

Officials say the security forces were on their way to strengthen security at polling stations in the state when the guerrillas detonated a landmine and opened fire.

The attack took place in Latehar district, 140km from the state capital Ranchi and in the same area where five rebels and two paramilitary soldiers were killed in a gun battle the previous day.

Jharkhand, a hotbed of Maoist activity, is one of several parts of India voting on Thursday in the first stage of a month-long general election.

It is the country's 15th general election. Voters in 124 constituencies are taking part in the ballot. There are four other phases between round one and the last phase on 13 May.

More than 700 million Indians overall are eligible to vote for seats in the lower house of parliament.

The incumbent Congress-led coalition government is facing a challenge from the main opposition Bharatiya Janata Party-led alliance.

The two main blocs are also competing against a "third front" of communist and regional parties in a poll that is too close to call.

Results are due on 16 May and a new parliament must be in place by 2 June.

Neither of the two main parties is expected to gain a clear majority. Both may have to depend on the support of smaller parties to form a government. The campaign rhetoric in recent days has become increasingly bitter, the BBC reports.