A health worker (right) waits to distribute facemasks, gloves and sanitizers among voters in Howrah district, Kolkata. AFP
At least five people were killed in election-related violence in India's West Bengal state on Saturday, the deadliest day so far in multi-phase voting there.
Violence first broke out when two unidentified men on a motorcycle fired at a queue of voters, killing one person, the police official said.
Security forces caused the majority of the casualties — four killed and four wounded — while trying to control a crowd outside a voting center in Cooch Behar district, said senior police officer Vishal Garg. He gave no further details on what sparked the clashes.
In a separate incident, unidentified gunmen fired at voters at a polling station in the same district, killing one person. Garg said police were investigating the attack.
Voters stand in a queue outside a polling station to cast their ballot in Howrah district near Kolkata on Saturday. AFP
Local elections in West Bengal, one of the most populous Indian states, are being held in eight phases. Voting in four Indian states and a union territory began in late March and are spread over a month. Results will be declared May 2.
The elections are seen as a crucial test for whether Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s party can gain a foothold in the northeast and south.
West Bengal is prone to election-related violence, and people have been killed during previous elections when supporters of rival political parties clashed with one other.
Modi's Bharatiya Janata Party has never won the state, and is banking on its strong Hindu nationalist ideology to draw votes.
He and his top leaders have campaigned heavily to wrest power from the state’s firebrand chief minister, Mamata Banerjee. A defeat for Banerjee, a strong Modi critic, would deal a blow to the country’s already weak opposition.
Modi’s overall popularity remains unmatched in India, but his party has faced tougher-than-expected challenges in recent state polls.
Prime Minister Narendra Modi's Hindu-nationalist party and the firebrand leader of West Bengal, Mamata Banerjee, are caught up in a fierce battle for the eastern state renowned for its high levels of political violence and murders.
The militants opened fire on Gul Mohammad Mir, 65, who headed a local unit of the Hindu nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), at his house in south Kashmir on Saturday night.
The country was spared the kind of widespread violence that many feared would erupt during voting on Saturday, as President Alassane Ouattara seeks a third term that his opponents say is unconstitutional.
Three militants and a soldier died early Saturday after troops and police launched a search operation in a village in southern Pulwama district, said Col. Rajesh Kalia, an Indian army spokesperson. He said troops recovered an assault rifle and two pistols from the slain militants.
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