Tens of thousands of more Indian soldiers deployed in Occupied Kashmir

Tens of thousands of more Indian soldiers deployed in Occupied Kashmir

SRINAGAR - Security forces shut down roads and stepped up patrols Wednesday in the restive Indian state of Kashmir, a day before voters in the region go to the polls.

Tens of thousands of security forces have poured into the state ahead of Thursday's vote, which is the second phase of India's massive elections.

Tensions have skyrocketed in Kashmir since a February suicide attack that killed 40 Indian paramilitaries and led to India and Pakistan exchanging cross-border strikes.

The two countries, which both control part of divided Kashmir, briefly appeared on the brink of war after the exchange of fire, though a more serious clash was averted.

But Indian authorities are taking no chances during voting, deploying tens of thousands of security forces to the state to join the half a million soldiers already stationed there.

"We have made elaborate security arrangements for peaceful polling," Swayam Prakash Pani, inspector general of the local police force, told AFP.

All civilian vehicles have been banned from the city's main boulevard, which leads to a poll material distribution centre.

Across the city, police and paramilitary troops in combat fatigues and wielding automatic rifles have been deployed, including along the banks of the Jhelum river that winds through Srinagar.

Barbed wire barricades have been erected and police have issued traffic advisories asking residents to avoid parts of the city.

Many residents have simply opted to stay home, with the traffic in the city dominated by troops and polling staff moving in military vehicles.

A local private transport operator said the government had hired more than 3,000 vehicles to ferry polling officials around parts of the state during the vote.

Security measures taken after the February attack have stirred some resentment, in particular new restrictions on a 200-kilometre stretch of key highway that runs north-south in the state.

After the attack, the stretch of road was ordered closed every Sunday and Wednesday while government forces move along it.

Earlier this month, a patient died inside an ambulance that was forced to stop on the highway as a police convoy moved along it.

On Wednesday, authorities briefly lifted the restrictions, but they are otherwise expected to remain in place until the elections are over. - APP/AFP