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Blasts don't deter voters in India

Indians voted in large numbers despite bomb explosions and shootings during parliamentary elections, prompting government officials and analysts to declare Tuesday that the world's largest democracy is thriving.

More than 55 percent of registered voters turned out Monday to elect 222 deputies in the first phase of staggered voting, similar to turnout figures in previous elections. It will take five more days of balloting to complete the elections for India's 545-seat lower house of parliament."In the turbulence of a maturing democracy, the elections are a resounding success," said B.G. Verghese, political analyst at the Center for Policy Research.

Still, election-related violence killed 22 people Monday. Twenty died in eastern Bihar state amid land mine explosions and clashes among rival political groups. One person died in the northeastern Assam state and another in southern Andhra Pradesh.

In addition, at least four boys were killed by a bomb blast Tuesday in the southern town of Coimbatore, police said. The boys were playing cricket in a neighborhood park dominated by Muslims when they opened a bag containing the explosive. Explosions in the same town killed 54 people Saturday.

In the northern state of Punjab, 20 political activists were injured Tuesday in fighting between armed members of the governing local Akali Dal party and the influential Congress Party.

The voting went ahead in as many as a quarter million polling stations. Polling will have to be scheduled again in several hundred districts because of violence or other problems. More than 600 million Indians were registered to vote in the staggered ballot, choosing from among some 5,000 candidates from more than 100 political parties.

In the remote northeastern Tripura state, where an ongoing insurgency and decades of ethnic conflict has claimed hundreds of lives, turnout was 85 percent, officials said. In Assam - where a banned separatist group, United Liberation Force of Assam, threatened violence if voters ventured out - turnout was 43 percent.

"People defied the boycott call, " said Assam Chief Minister Prafulla Kumar Ma-han-ta.

But violence did have an impact. In 1996, about 69 percent of the electorate voted in Assam. In Tamil Nadu, where a series of bomb blasts Saturday killed 54 people and injured nearly 200, only 45 percent of the electorate voted Monday.