India prepares to vote

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Separatist rebels in the Himalayas, the remote northeast and the country’s south oppose the elections and have threatened to keep up violent attacks on candidates, voters and poll workers. The balloting begins today and continues in four more phases over three weeks, to allow army, police and paramilitary forces to protect different regions.

But the stepped up security failed to prevent violence, including a grenade attack by suspected militants in Jammu-Kashmir on Monday that wounded three people. Two top politicians from the ruling coalition, the National Democratic Alliance, survived apparent attempts on their lives Sunday night in Andhra Pradesh and Bihar states.

Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee has successfully run a broad-based coalition for its full term in an era of fractious politics and claims credit for an economy likely to grow more than 8 per cent this year.

In the first phase of voting today, 400,000 troops are on duty, with 140 of the 543 elected Parliament seats up for grabs across 14 states.