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India holds Kashmir polls despite lockdown, boycott

Two apple truck drivers shot dead

India holds Kashmir polls despite lockdown, boycott

Village council elections were held on Thursday across Indian-controlled Kashmir, with the detention of many mainstream local politicians and a boycott by most parties prompting expectations that the polls will install supporters of the central Hindu nationalist-led government that revoked the region's semi-autonomous status in August, reports AP.

Indian officials are hoping the election of leaders of more than 300 local councils will lend credibility amid a political vacuum and contend they will represent local interests better than corrupt state-level political officials.

Heavy contingents of police and paramilitary soldiers guarded polling stations. At some places, soldiers patrolled streets around polling stations. Police said no violence was reported.

Thursday's elections were boycotted by most political parties, including those whose leaders had been sympathetic to the central government but are now in makeshift jails or under house arrest. India's main opposition Congress party boycotted as well, possibly allowing a clean sweep for Prime Minister Narendra Modi's Bharatiya Janata Party.

The BJP has a very small base in the Kashmir valley, the heart of a decades-old anti-India insurgency in the region of about 12 million people.

Predominantly Muslim Kashmir is split between India and Pakistan, with both countries claiming the region in its entirety. Insurgents in the Indian-controlled portion demand independence or a merger with Pakistan.

In Thursday's elections, members of more than 300 Block Development Councils formed last year chose the councils' leaders. Each block comprises a cluster of villages across Jammu and Kashmir, a state that India's Parliament downgraded in August to a federal territory, a change that takes effect on Oct. 31.

Meanwhile, two apple truck drivers were shot dead and their vehicles set on fire in Indian-administered Kashmir, police said Friday, in the latest attack on the vital local fruit industry which has been pulled into the conflict between militants and New Delhi.

Tensions have soared since New Delhi's August decision to strip the autonomy of the disputed and restive Himalayan region and impose a security and communication lockdown.

The nearly $2-billion apple trade has been caught between militants wanting a shutdown of the local economy in protest at India's actions, and New Delhi which wants to restore normality.

The two drivers, who were from outside Kashmir, died late Thursday in the southern Shopian district, a militant stronghold, after gunmen sprayed their vehicles with bullets, police said.

A third driver was also injured.

"We have some important clues about the attackers," senior police official Munir Khan told the news agency.

Last week two apple traders and a driver -- all three also from outside Kashmir -- were killed in two separate attacks by militants in the same region, known for its vast orchards.

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