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World News

Christians in Manipur go to the polls as violence breaks out again

by Donna Birrell

Violence has broken out again in the Indian state of Manipur. Gunshots rang out in the region on Friday as large numbers of voters cast ballots in the country’s national election.

Since May 2023 Manipur has seen a wave of tribal violence between the majority Meitei and the largely Christian Kuki people. Around 200 people died, many of them Christians and over 70,000 people were displaced, with many churches also targeted and razed to the ground.

Voting in the world’s largest election began yesterday, Friday and an election official said there were at least six instances of armed groups trying to take over polling stations in the Manipur capital Imphal.

Both parliamentary seats in Manipur were won by Prime Minister Narendra Modi's BJP party and its ally in 2019 – and polls predict an easy victory in the country for him this year, too.

Modi has not visited Manipur during the past 11 months of strife and many residents say they feel ignored.

Nenzboi Lhungdim is a Kuki nurse living in a relief camp. She lost her home in the violence and finds solace in attending church with other camp residents. She wants peace – and hopes her vote could help:

“I think it (my vote) will definitely change our present situation in the future.”

Unlike Lhungdim, many residents abstained from voting in the Kuki-dominated areas, with tribal bodies asking people not to participate in the election due to the violence.

Sangeeta Ningthoujan, who is Meitei, also lives in a relief camp. She was forced to flee her home last year with her younger daughter. But she says when she went to vote on Friday - her name wasn’t on the list.

“I feel bad. I feel bad. I want to elect a person who can hear our voice. But I don’t have a chance to cast a vote.”

Officials say they’ve tried to make sure nearly 25,000 displaced people can vote... replacing lost identity cards, verifying voter names and setting up polling booths for people in camps.

The state of 3.6 million people had a voter turnout of about 68 per cent by the time polling stations closed on Friday.

A second phase of voting in Manipur will take place on April 26.

Overall election results are expected on June 4.

(additional reporting by Reuters)

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