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Maoist rebels kill 13 in Chhattisgarh state in attempt to disrupt India elections

Maoist rebels have killed more than a dozen people as they continue a campaign of violence aimed at disrupting India's five-week national election. The rebels have also called on voters to boycott the polls.

Saturday's attacks took place half an hour apart in the central state of Chhattisgarh. In the first, police say a land mine set by the rebels exploded and killed at least five election officials and two drivers traveling from Kutru to Bijapur before planned balloting there next week. The blast also injured at least four people.

"The officials were returning from remote areas after duties for the polling in the region two days ago," senior police official Dipanshu Kabra said.

In the second attack, on an ambulance in the Jagdalpur district, the rebels killed at least five men from the Central Reserve Police Force as well as the driver and injured four more people, officials said. In the past, government officials have traveled by ambulance to avoid attacks by the Maoists.

Long-running battle

Saturday's attacks represent the deadliest strikes by the rebels aiming to disrupt the voting since

polls opened on April 7.

A total of 19 people, most of them members of the security forces, have died so far.

The elections continue until May 12, and officials expect results by May 16. The five-week process of rolling elections allows for security forces to concentrate their efforts in voting regions.

More than 800 million people are eligible to vote in what has been called

the world's biggest democratic exercise.

The incumbent Congress party and main opposition Bharatiya Janata Party represent the main contenders, each with alliances of smaller and regional parties.

Since the 1960s, Maoist rebels have battled the government for a greater share of natural wealth as mining companies compete with Indians for resources. The rebels accuse the government of taking land from the poor and plundering the mineral assets of states such as Chhattisgarh. Prime Minister Manmohan Singh has called the rebels India's greatest internal security threat.

mkg/hc (Reuters, dpa, AP)

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