At least six civilians have been killed and dozens more have been injured after New Delhi’s paramilitary forces opened fire at protesters in Indian-controlled Kashmir.
The fierce clashes erupted after stone-throwing protesters stormed polling stations during a by-election in Budgam district near the main city of Srinagar on Sunday .
Paramilitary troops fired bullets and shotgun pellets as thousands of protesters shouting slogans against Indian rule charged into voting booths in the troubled area.
Shantmanu, Kashmir's chief electoral officer said that protesters tried to snatch or damage electronic voting machines in at least a dozen places.
"Violent protests happened at many places in Budgam. Protesters damaged and snatched EVMs (electronic voting machines) at some places," said Shantmanu, who uses only one name.
"It was not a good day for all of us. Six civilians were killed and 70 were wounded," the official added.
"There were more than 200 incidents of violence...which included stone-pelting, petrol bomb attacks, setting ablaze of a polling station," Shantmanu noted
Hospital sources in Srinagar confirmed that many were grievously injured with bullets fired by police and paramilitary troops.
Pro-independence factions in Kashmir had called for a boycott of the vote. The boycott resulted in heightened security and low voter turnout as the polling began.
Figures show only 6.5 percent of voters turned out to cast their ballot, the lowest ever participation recorded in any election in the disputed territory. At least 70 polling stations were shut due to the violence.
The by-election is being held to fill a vacant seat in the Lok Sabha, India's lower house of parliament. The seat had fallen vacant after a lawmaker resigned to protest the killing of civilians during unrest last year.
The Muslim-majority region has witnessed an increase in mass protests and violent attacks since early July 2016, when Burhan Wani, a top figure in a pro-independence group, was killed in a shootout with Indian troops.
Thousands of government troops have been deployed to the region and nearly 90 people have lost their lives and more than 12,000 wounded in the ensuing crackdown.
The government crackdown has failed to halt the protests against the Indian rule in Kashmir.
Kashmir has been divided between India and Pakistan but claimed in full by both since the two partitioned and gained independence from Britain in 1947. The two countries have fought three wars over the disputed territory.