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Millions of Indians cast their vote in 2nd round

MILLIONS of Indians, including Prime Minister Manmohan Singh, voted yesterday in the second stage of a month-long general election shrouded by violence.

Hundreds of thousands of police guarded some 200 million eligible voters across swathes of central and southern India but no major trouble was reported. A week earlier 16 people were killed in violence in the first phase of voting.

The ruling Congress party-led coalition appears to lead against an alliance headed by the Hindu-nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), but both may need the support of a host of smaller regional parties to win office.

Under armed guard, Singh cast his vote in Guwahati, the principal city of the northeastern state of Assam, which was hit by a string of bombs in the run-up to the election.

Singh is the prime ministerial candidate for the Congress party, which has overseen an economic boom since coming to power in 2004. But the outlook for the next government is less rosy due to a yawning fiscal deficit just as the economy suffers a downturn.

The second round of polling, the biggest of the five phases, involves people from India's rural heartland, the IT center of Bangalore and some states where rebels are strong.

The rebels blasted a railway station and chopped down trees to block roads in the eastern state of Jharkhand early yesterday.

The rebels also briefly seized a train on Wednesday in a show of strength before releasing the passengers unharmed.

Police were locked in a brief gunfight with rebels near the eastern city of Jamshedpur yesterday after they attacked a security convoy. The rebels later fled into the jungle.

Rebels also killed five election officials in a land mine blast in Chhattisgarh state during the last round of voting.

The outcome of the election will be known on May 16.


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