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Boycott favours BJP in restive Shopian

Press Trust of India

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Srinagar, Oct 3: BJP will control the municipal corporation in restive Shopian district of south Kashmir after 13 of its candidates won the civic body polls unopposed with most people preferring to maintain a distance from the electoral exercise following threats by militant groups.

The Shopian district, which has been the battle ground of numerous encounters between militants and the security forces, has a 17-member municipal corporation. The BJP fielded candidates for 13 wards while no nomination was filed for the remaining seats.

“We had only one nomination each for 13 wards while no nominations were received for four other wards of the Municipal Committee, Shopian,” an election official said Wednesday.

 

The state BJP claimed it was a “historic win”. Jammu and Kashmir BJP chief Ravinder Raina said “our motto is development of all and we will do justice to all kinds of people. We are extremely happy”.

However, political observers do not read much into the BJP’s ‘victory’ and feel that these elections were ‘meaningless’ after the state’s major political parties — National Conference and PDP — decided to boycott the elections over the legal challenge to Article 35-A of the Constitution in the Supreme Court.

Meanwhile, fear of militant groups pushed the state electoral machinery into the secrecy mode to ensure that the names of the winning candidates or those who filed nominations were not leaked.

BJP state president Raina, meanwhile, lashed out at the National Conference and the PDP for making a “mockery of the democratic process” by boycotting the urban local polls.

“The National Conference with the Congress formed the Hill Development Council in Kargil recently but in Kashmir they are running away from the democratic process,” he said.

Asked if there was any Kashmiri Pandit among the elected candidates in Shopian, Raina said all the 13 were local Muslims.

Overall, of the 598 wards in the Kashmir valley, 151 candidates were declared as  unopposed winners. The number of such candidates may go up as election authorities are compiling the data of valid nominations for the third and fourth phases of the polls.

There were no candidates in 177 wards in the Kashmir valley, an official said.

In contrast, in the Jammu region only five seats were won uncontested, three of these belonging to the Banihal Municipal Committee.

Elections will not be held for the Municipal Committees of Khrew in Pulwama district and Frisal in Kulgam district as no candidates filed nomination papers, officials said.

There were only two candidates in the 13-ward body at Seer Hamdan in Anantnag district while three candidates each filed papers for the 13-member bodies in Pulwama and Awantipora towns.

Interestingly, 330 candidates are in the fray for the 74 wards of the Srinagar Municipal Corporation (SMC). Result for only one ward in SMC was declared uncontested.

The first phase of polling will be held on October 8, followed by the second phase on October 10, third phase on October 13 and the fourth and final phase on October 16. The counting of votes will be taken up on October 20.

Around 17 lakh electors are eligible to vote in the four-phased local body and municipal polls in Jammu and Kashmir, an election department official said.

Out of the total 1,145 wards of municipality and local bodies, 90 wards have been reserved for Scheduled Castes (SC) and 38 for Scheduled Tribes (ST), which include 31 and 13 wards reserved for SC and ST women, respectively. In addition to this, 322 wards have been reserved for women belonging to the open category.

The Srinagar Municipal Corporation (SMC) has the highest number of 6,63,775 electors with 74 wards followed by the Jammu Municipal Corporation (JMC) with 75 wards and 4,00,301 electors, the official said.


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Lead Stories

ISIS claims responsibility for Colombo blasts, city on high alert

Agencies

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Colombo: Islamic state has claimed responsibility for coordinated bombings in Sri Lanka which killed 321 people and injured about 500 others, the group’s AMAQ news agency said on Tuesday.

The group did not give evidence for its claim.

 

Sri Lanka on Tuesday placed all police stations in Colombo on high alert as police were hunting for an unidentified container truck and a van, believed to be carrying explosives.

A warning issued by the Director of Security at the Colombo Harbour said intelligence had found information that an unidentified container truck and a van carrying a potential explosive device was heading towards Colombo. Search operations are currently underway at the Colombo Harbour for the potential threat.

The alert came as the island nation observed a day of national mourning for over 320 people killed in a series on blasts on Easter Sunday.

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Phase III Lok Sabha polls: Anantnag to go to polls today

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Srinagar, Apr 22: The Anantnag Lok Sabha constituency in Jammu and Kashmir goes to the polls in the third phase on Tuesday even as the security forces face a serious challenge to ensure that the democratic process passes off peacefully.

Due to the overwhelming security concerns, the Anantnag parliamentary constituency comprising four districts — Anantnag, Kulgam, Shopian and Pulwama — will vote in three phases. Polling in Anantnag will be held on Tuesday, followed by Kulgam (April 29) and Pulwama and Shopian (May 6).Over 100 additional companies of Central Armed Police Forces (CAPF) have been deployed to augment an already existing large contingent of state police and CAPF personnel deployed on poll duty in this constituency.

Because of the serious security challenges in the constituency, by-poll could not be held in Anantnag after Mehbooba Mufti, President of the People’s Democratic Party (PDP), resigned the seat in 2016 to become the state’s Chief Minister following the death of her father, Mufti Muhammad Sayeed.

 

In addition to the presence of foreign militants, homegrown militancy is a big challenge here for the agencies maintaining ‘law and order’.

In the last four years, a large number of local youth, majority of them well-educated and belonging to upper middle class families, have joined militant ranks in the four districts of Anantnag, Shopian, Kulgam and Pulwama.

The problems for the security personnel have been compounded by stone pelting at armed forces during security operations against holed up militants, thousands of mourners turning out to attend funerals of slain militants and the failure of the mainstream politicians to move out even in areas from where they were voted to the state Assembly in 2014.

Due to security issues, the voting process here would be held between 7 a.m. and 4 p.m., instead of the 6 p.m. deadline observed in the other constituencies of the state.

While there are five main candidates in the fray from Anantnag — PDP chief Mehbooba Mufti, Congress’ Ghulam Ahmad Mir, Hasnain Masoodi of the National Conference (NC), Sofi Yusuf of the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) and Chowdhary Zafar Ali of the Peoples Conference (PC) — the key contest here is between Mufti and state Congress President Mir.

Out of the 16 Assembly segments under the Anantnag Lok Sabha constituency, the PDP had won 11, Congress 2, NC 2 and CPI-M 1 in the 2014 Assembly elections.

Given these statistics, Mufti’s victory may look like a cakewalk, but the ground situation has undergone a sea change since 2014.

The failed ruling alliance between the PDP and the BJP in the state has hit the former’s prospects in Anantnag as it has done in the rest of the Muslim majority Valley.

Mufti has taken a huge gamble by deciding to fight the Lok Sabha polls from here. Her victory or defeat would seriously impact the prospects of her party in the state Assembly elections likely to be held later this year.

Her problems have been compounded by Mir throwing his hat in the electoral arena. Mir has committed vote banks in Dooru, Shangus, Kokernag and Devsar segments.

While it is expected that the voter turnout would be good in these segments, there is a possibility of thin voter turnout in the segments where the PDP believes its vote banks exist.

Given this reality, the final result could see a photo finish between Mir and Mufti.

Poll campaign by different parties here has been generally muted because of security constraints.

How many voters come out to vote on Tuesday would be keenly watched. But no matter what, the security forces will have their tasks cut out to ensure that polling is conducted smoothly in this volatile constituency.

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SRI LANKA BOMBINGS: Death toll rises to 290

Agencies

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Colombo, Apr 22: The toll in the eight coordinated bomb blasts that rocked Sri Lanka during Easter celebrations rose to 290, police said on Monday.

Police spokesperson Ruwan Gunasekara told The New York Times that 24 people have been arrested in connection with the deadly explosions in which nearly 500 people were injured on Sunday.

Sri Lankan Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe told the reporters that the authorities had prior “information regarding a possible attack” before the bomb blasts ripped through churches and hotels in Colombo and two other towns in the island nation.

 

“While this goes on we must also look into why adequate precautions were not taken,” Wickremesinghe was quoted as saying by Al Jazeera.

The police said that the investigation will examine reports why the intelligence community failed to detect or warn of possible suicide attacks ahead of the blasts, the worst violence in Sri Lanka since the end of the civil war 10 years ago.

They also said that an improvised pipe bomb found close to Colombo’s main airport late on Sunday, was successfully detonated. No group has claimed responsibility for the attacks.

The Prime Minister said, “So far the names that have come up are local,” adding that the investigators are looking into whether the attackers had any “overseas links”.

According to Sri Lanka’s Foreign Ministry, at least 17 people from eight countries, including three from India, were among those who were killed in the serial blasts. The dead included five citizens of Britain, three Danes, two each from China and Turkey and one each from the Netherlands and Portugal, reported CNN.

The ministry said that 19 foreign nationals injured in the attacks are receiving treatment at Colombo National Hospital.

Following the bomb attacks, the Sri Lankan government had imposed a 12-hour island-wide curfew from 6:00 pm on Sunday.

After a discussion with heads of security forces and all other departments regarding the current security situation in the country, President Maithripala Sirisena had announced that the government and private schools would remain closed till Tuesday.

In addition, steps have been taken to temporarily block all social media accounts until the investigations are concluded.

‘National Tawheed Jamath’ suspected plotters: Sri Lanka

Press Trust of India

Colombo, Apr 22: A local outfit identified as the ‘National Tawheed Jamath’ is suspected of plotting the deadly Easter blasts that killed 290 people and wounded 500 others in the worst terror attack in the country’s history, a top Sri Lankan minister said on Monday.

Health Minister and the government spokesman, Rajitha Senaratne, also said that all suicide bombers involved in the blasts are believed to be Sri Lankan nationals.

Speaking at a press conference here, the minister said that the Chief of National Intelligence had warned the Inspector General of Police (IGP) regarding the probable attacks before April 11.

“On April 4, international intelligence agencies had warned of these attacks. The IGP was informed on April 9,” Senaratne said.

He said that the local outfit identified as the National Tawheed Jamath – a radical Muslim group – is suspected of plotting the deadly explosions.

“There may be international links to them,” he added.

Senaratne sought resignation of police chief Pujith Jayasundera in view of the major security lapse.

Rauff Hakeem, a government minister and the leader of the main Muslim party – Sri Lanka Muslim Congress, said that it was lamentable that no preventive action had been taken despite the inputs.

“They have known this…, the names have been given, identified, but (they) took no action,” he added.

Two Sri Lankan Muslim groups – the All Ceylon Jamiyyathul Ulama and the National Shoora Council – have condemned the blasts and offered condolences to the Christian community.

They have urged that all culprits be brought to book.

Seven suicide bombers were involved in eight blasts that targeted St Anthony’s Church in Colombo, St Sebastian’s Church in Negombo and Zeon Church in Batticaloa when the Easter Sunday mass were in progress. The explosions also struck three five-star hotels in Colombo – the Shangri-La, the Cinnamon Grand and the Kingsbury.

No group has claimed responsibility for Sunday’s attacks, but police have so far arrested 24 people.

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