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India Maoists hijack train in eastern India

INDIAN Maoist rebels hijacked a train with around 500 passengers in the eastern state of Jharkhand today in an attack a day before the second stage of India's general election, police said.

About 200 Maoists boarded a passenger train and forced the driver to take it to Latehar station in an area known to be a rebel stronghold.

Indian Maoists, who say they are fighting for the rights of landless labourers and poor farmers, have stepped up attacks in their strongholds in central and eastern India during the general election.

"We are sending security forces to rescue the passengers," Sarvendu Tathagat, a local government official in Jharkhand, told Reuters.

Maoists have taken over trains in past years in a show of strength, holding them up for several hours before leaving. Passengers are usually unharmed.

Maoist rebel violence marred the first stage of India's election last Thursday when five election officials were killed in a landmine blast in Chhattisgarh state. Eleven police were killed across the central and eastern "red belt".

Prime Minister Manmohan Singh has described Maoist violence as India's biggest internal security threat. Some 500 civilians and police were killed in insurgent clashes last year.

India is holding a staggered general election over April and May in which 714 million people are eligible to vote.


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