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Kashmir Candidate, Guards Killed

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Kashmir candidate, guards killed

ASSOCIATED PRESS

SRINAGAR, India, Nov. 2 — Hours after a new government was installed Saturday, suspected Islamic militants shot dead a local leader of the ruling Congress party and his two guards in the heart of the capital of Indian-ruled Kashmir, authorities said.

THE ATTACK on Mohammad Sikander Khan and his guards occurred at the busy Batmaloo bus station in Srinagar, the summer capital of Jammu-Kashmir state, a police official told The Associated Press on condition of anonymity.

A civilian also was wounded in the firing. The attackers fled.

Pakistan-based Islamic militants had threatened to kill political candidates in the elections in Indian-controlled Kashmir. The run-up to the polls was marred by several attacks and killings, including that of a government minister.

Khan lost as the candidate of Sonia Gandhi’s Congress party from the Karnah constituency.

After a weekslong political deadlock following a hung verdict, the Congress party formed a coalition with two other political groups to cobble together a majority. Mufti Mohammed Sayeed, a leader of the People’s Democratic Party, was sworn in as the chief minister — the top elected official.

However, Sayeed survived a grenade attack at his home by suspected Islamic militants three hours before the swearing-in ceremony.

The militant groups have fought for Kashmir’s independence or its merger with Pakistan since 1989. They called for a boycott and threatened voters and candidates.

Sayeed was inside his house in Srinagar when the attack happened. One of his personal security guards was hurt.

Eight ministers also were sworn in for the state’s coalition government — two from Sayeed’s party, three from the Congress party, one from the Hindu-dominated Panther’s Party and two independents.

The attack on Sayeed came after a Pakistan-based Islamic rebel group, Al-Umar Mujahedeen, warned his People’s Democratic Party on Saturday against joining the new government.

In a statement faxed to several newspapers in Srinagar, the summer capital of Indian-controlled Kashmir, top rebel commander Mushtaq Ahmad Zargar warned Sayeed of “forceful action” if he joined the new coalition, which he described as an “Indian puppet government.”

No single party emerged the winner in recent elections — from Sept. 16 to Oct. 8 — but voters ousted the National Conference party, which had dominated Jammu-Kashmir politics for 50 years.

The PDP and the Congress party have a combined 36 seats in the 87-member legislature. Seven independent lawmakers and four from the Jammu-Kashmir Panthers’ party also pledged their support to the coalition — giving the parties the majority of the assembly’s seats.

India accuses Pakistan of sponsoring the 13-year insurgency that has killed more than 61,000 people, a charge denied by Islamabad. Both countries claim the entire Himalayan region, which is split between the two neighbors by a cease-fire line.

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