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55 p.c. turnout, polling peaceful

By Our Tamil Nadu Bureau

Sattankulam (Tuticorin) Feb. 26 . Amid sporadic complaints of bogus voting, over 55 per cent of the electorate of the Sattankulam Assembly constituency in southern Tamil Nadu today turned up at 174 polling stations to decide the outcome of a bitter battle between the ruling AIADMK and the Congress.

However, the byelection, which drew nationwide attention for the month-long high-voltage campaign, passed off peacefully, barring a few minor incidents. The constituency, with a huge population of Christians, saw long queues of voters particularly in the minority-dominant Nazareth town and surrounding areas, even before the start of polling at 8.a.m. Women voters too turned out in large numbers.

But as the day wore on, the queue shortened, to record a moderate 55 to 60 per cent polling, which was more than the 45.2 per cent recorded in the general election.

A few booths registered a staggeringly high turnout by afternoon, triggering complaints of bogus voting. For instance, in the Muslim-dominant Campellabad booth in the Alwarthirunagari union, 577 out of 820 votes were cast by 2.30 p.m., sparking allegations that ``outsiders'' had been brought in by the AIADMK to cast bogus votes. But, the presiding officer, P. Prabhakaran, maintained that the polling was free and fair.

A bogus voter, who was caught red-handed, was beaten up and chased away by both the parties at Seythunganallur panchayat, while at the nearby Anavarathanallur, the Congress agent walked out after complaining of bogus voting.

Though the Election Commission had ordered that all ``outsiders'' be removed from the constituency, a few MLAs of the ruling party could be seen near polling stations at Nazareth, Seythunganallur and Kurangani.

Cong. agents walk out

Congress agents abandoned several stations in the Thevar-dominant Karungulam union and at the Kuripankulam booth in the Alwarthirunagari union. While the Congress men charged that they were either lured with money or chased away, the police claimed that they walked out in sheer boredom.

However, thousands of policemen posted in the constituency ensured that the poll was incident-free, except an alleged attack on a group of mediapersons at Vellarikkaoorani, near Nazareth.

In some booths, including at Padukkapathu, polling could not begin at the scheduled time owing to `link errors' in electronic voting machines. The AIADMK candidate, L. Neelamegavarnam, and the Congress nominee, A. Mahendran, cast their votes at Padukkapathu and Sundankottai respectively in the morning.

One of the election observers, S.K. Das, told the media here this evening that that poll was peaceful and that he had not received any complaint of bogus voting.

The Collector said police and zonal teams had reached the trouble-prone areas within 15-20 minutes of receipt of information.

The Superintendent of Police, Sumit Sharan, said some outsiders were caught before they could reach the booths. Vehicles carrying them were also detained, he said adding no arrests were made.

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