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Five die in Kashmir gunbattle after polling threat

Five people have been killed in a fire fight in Indian-controlled Kashmir, after troops and police surrounded a village. The violence comes after the death of a local election official.

Two soldiers and three suspected rebels were killed in a gun battle after security forces laid siege to Manloo village.

Militants were reported to have opened fire on the surrounding forces who had launched a search for militants, paramilitary officer Nalin Prabhat told the AP news agency.

Prabhat said the exchange of fire had stopped during the night, but only after two soldiers and two militants had been killed. The third militant died after being shot after emerging from the ruins of a destroyed house and shooting at police.

A police officer said the clash had begun on Friday, and that the men hiding in the village had been given a chance to surrender.

The fighting came after suspected rebels ambushed polling staff who were on their way home in a government vehicle after voting in the Anantnag constituency in the southern Kashmir valley.

Voters warned to stay away

Threats had been posted outside mosques by suspected rebels that warned people to stay away from the polls or face punishment. Voter turnout among the constituency's 1.3-million electorate was just 28 percent.

Kashmir was divided between India and Pakistan in 1947, when the two countries gained independence from Britain.

Fighting over the territory

since then has left thousands of people, most of them civilians, dead.

Indian has repeatedly leveled the charge at Pakistan that it supports the rebels. Islamabad denies this, but does call the rebels freedom fighters.

With 814 million eligible voters, the

Indian general election

is taking place in stages. Thursday saw voting in constituencies in 12 of India's states, with the next rounds of polling due in the region on April 30 and May 7.

rc/kms (AFP, AP, dpa)

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