Violence at Indian election sees two dead

Clashes marred the final phase of India's parliamentary elections today, which left two people dead.

A local official from the Dravida Munnetra Khazagham Party was stabbed to death at a polling booth in the state of Tamil Nadu. Seven people were also injured during fights between rival political parties.

Police sources said two journalists in Punjab were also injured after they were allegedly attacked by activists of the Shiromani Akali Dal for taking TV footage of party workers carrying weapons.

Another person was killed this morning near Kolkatta during clashes between Trinamool Congress activists and workers from the Communist Party of India.

Eight states and Union Territories reported brisk polling by midday in a phase which included prominent candidates going to the polls including Congress Party's P Chidambaram and Bharatiya Janata Party's (BJP) Maneka Gandhi and son Varun Gandhi.

Mr Gandhi's constituency of Pilibhit saw the highest voter turnout in the state of Uttar Pradesh by 3pm local time, with 51% of the electorate casting their ballot.

The "hate speech" politician also reportedly entered into arguments with polling officials accusing them of favouring the Bahujan Samaj Party candidate Ganga Charan Rajput.

Tourist hotspot Puducherry showed a 51.8% turnout by 3pm local time, while Punjab, Uttarakhand, Tamil Nadu and West Bengal followed with 50%, 46%, 45.8% and 45% respectively at the same time.

Only 34% had cast their vote in violence-hit Jammu and Kashmir.

A total of 1,432 candidates were standing for elections in this phase.

On average 50% of the country's registered electorate participated in the mammoth elections spanning a month. Analysts predict a hung parliament with neither the ruling Congress Party or the opposition BJP expected to win a clear majority.

Samajwadi Party (SP) leader Mulayam Singh and Bahujan Samaj Party chief Mayawati have projected themselves as prime ministerial candidates this year. Another regional party Nationalist Congress Party has projected its chief Sharad Pawar as a PM candidate as well.

The tussle for votes has been surrounded by parties jostling for allies, with regional parties holding sway over crucial vote banks.

A recent survey by the Times of India forecasts a close finish with the Congress predicted to win 195 seats and 187 seats for the BJP. They would have to share the seats with regional parties and independent candidates, who are predicted to win 111 and 50 seats respectively.

SP leader Mr Singh said: "The trend after three phases of polling shows that no government at the centre would be possible without SP's support."

The country has voted a coalition government into power for the last three elections. The first two National Democratic Alliance coalitions were led by the BJP while the current United Progressive Alliance has a large number of Congress seats.

However, this time it will be difficult for both Congress's prime ministerial candidate Manmohan Singh and BJP's candidate L K Advani to form the government.

The first two phases on April 16 and 20 were marred by the Maoist violence. At least 20 people were killed across the country.

The third phase held on April 30 was largely peaceful except for a lone Maoist attack in the state of West Bengal. The fourth phase held last Thursday ended on a peaceful note.

This phase marks an end to the month-long voting process in the world's largest democracy. Results will be declared on Saturday for all 543 seats. The new government will be in place by June 2.

Exit polls in the country predict the current government - the Congress Party-led United Progressive Alliance - would have an edge over Bharatiya Janata Party-led National Democratic Alliance.

A spokesman for India's Election Commission said there was an overall 62% voter turnout in the last phase of polling today.

"Polling has been completed in all 29 states and six union territories covering 543 parliamentary constituencies," he said.

"Barring a few incidents of violence, the entire poll process has been largely peaceful."

"There has been unfortunate loss of lives of polling personnel, security personnel and other civilians. The commission deeply condones the death of those individuals while delivering the sacred duty of delivering elections," he added.

Results will be announced on Saturday.

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