SRINAGAR, India (AP) — Thousands of Kashmiris cast votes in state elections Tuesday despite a boycott call by Muslim separatist groups that reject India's sovereignty over the disputed Himalayan region.
Voter turnout was high at 70 percent despite cold temperatures and overcast skies, the Election Commission said. It described the first phase of the elections as "flawless" with no incidents marring the polls.
Paramilitary soldiers and police officers patrolled near polling stations.
Long lines of voters stretched around polling booths in Ganderbal and Bandipora, north of the main city of Srinagar.
The elections for the 87-member state assembly are being held in five phases, a process that allows the government to deploy thousands of troops to prevent violence. The results are to be announced Dec. 23.
Pro-India Kashmiri parties say the elections will boost development and help address civic issues, while separatists say the polls are an illegitimate exercise under military occupation. In recent days, authorities have detained hundreds of separatist leaders and activists who called for an election boycott.
The multistage voting will elect a local government — a chief minister who will serve as the state's top official and a council of ministers — from the pro-India parties participating in the elections.
Prime Minister Narendra Modi's Bharatiya Janata Party has been campaigning heavily, and for the first time is hoping to win a sizeable number of seats in India's only Muslim-majority state.
The Kashmir region is divided between India and Pakistan and both countries claim it in its entirety.
Nearly a dozen rebel groups have been fighting against Indian rule since 1989, seeking independence for Kashmir or its merger with Pakistan. About 68,000 people have been killed in the conflict.
State elections were also being held in the central Indian state of Jharkhand.