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Indian rebels hijack packed train

REBELS hijacked a train and briefly held 300 passengers yesterday before melting away into surrounding forests in one of a series of attacks in India that threatened to mar the national elections.

Much of the violence was focused in eastern and central India where guerillas have fought for decades for the rights of the poor but tensions remained high in other regions as the elections exposed ethnic, religious and caste divides in this massive nation of 1.2 billion people.

The first phase of voting last week saw more than three dozen attacks.

Violence left at least 17 people dead - including police, soldiers, polling officials and civilians - and three election officials were kidnapped.

Yesterday, on the eve of a second round of voting, several hundred guerillas stopped a train in a show of force and held the passengers hostage for several hours in the eastern state of Jharkhand.

All the passengers were released unharmed and their was no confrontation with security forces, according to senior police official Hemant Toppo.

Yesterday's hijacking was one of a series of attacks that included an explosion at another railway station, a blast at a government office, and the slaying of a truck driver in the neighboring state of Bihar.

The rebels have called on the public to boycott the national election and a pamphlet left at the attacked government office described the vote as "a fake exercise."

"Strengthen revolutionary forces. You will pay with your lives if you participate in these elections," it read.

Today's vote is the second of five phases of polling that began last Thursday and will continue for a month, with results expected on May 16.


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