New Delhi, 16 April (AKI) - At least 11 people, including nine paramilitary soldiers, were killed in India on Thursday in election day attacks by Maoist rebels in the east of the country, officials said. More than 700 million Indians are eligible to vote in the elections being held for the lower house of parliament in the world's largest democracy.
The first round of voting is taking place in the country's 15th general elections, amid fears of terrorist attacks.
The incumbent Congress-led coalition government is facing a challenge from the main opposition, the Hindu nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party-led alliance.
In Jharkhand state, Maoist rebels reportedly set off a landmine and ambushed a bus carrying security forces for duty at polling stations.
Seven soldiers and two civilians died in the attack, police spokesman S.N. Pradhan told reporters from Latehar district, which has been struck by several deadly Maoist attacks in recent days.
In neighbouring Bihar state, two security personnel were shot dead and another wounded by the rebels in Gaya district, Indian media reported.
In Chattisgarh state, several gun battles were reported to have taken place in a densely forested region that serves as the main base of the left-wing rebels.
Jharkhand, Bihar and Chattisgarh are among several 124 constituencies where voters were expected to go to the polls in the first stage of a month-long general election.
Polling in areas hit by the Maoist insurgency has been staggered over several phases to enable the adequate deployment of security personnel.
Neither of India's two main national parties - the incumbent Congress nor the BJP - is considered capable of securing an absolute majority in the five-stage polls.
Regional and local parties are expected to win half the 543 parliamentary seats, so the elections may lead to intense negotiations as the major parties seek to form a viable coalition.