5 killed in election violence in India's West Bengal state

NEW DELHI (AP) — At least five people were killed by gunfire in election-related violence at two polling stations in India’s West Bengal state, police said Saturday.

Security forces caused the majority of the casualties — four killed and four wounded — while trying to control a crowd outside a voting center in Cooch Behar district, said senior police officer Vishal Garg. He gave no further details on what sparked the clashes.

In a separate incident, unidentified gunmen fired at voters at a polling station in the same district, killing one person. Garg said police were investigating the attack.

Local elections in West Bengal, one of the most populous Indian states, are being held in eight phases. Voting in four Indian states and a union territory began in late March and are spread over a month. Results will be declared May 2.

The elections are seen as a crucial test for whether Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s party can gain a foothold in the northeast and south.

West Bengal is prone to election-related violence, and people have been killed during previous elections when supporters of rival political parties clashed with one other.

Modi's Bharatiya Janata Party has never won the state, and is banking on its strong Hindu nationalist ideology to draw votes.

He and his top leaders have campaigned heavily to wrest power from the state’s firebrand chief minister, Mamata Banerjee. A defeat for Banerjee, a strong Modi critic, would deal a blow to the country’s already weak opposition.

Modi’s overall popularity remains unmatched in India, but his party has faced tougher-than-expected challenges in recent state polls.

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