Naxal seized train for 3 hours - they say it was a symbolic gesture, no intention to cause harm to passengers and anyway it is very hot here.
Maoist rebels who seized a train carrying several hundred passengers in eastern India have released them. Up to 250 rebels took over the train as it travelled through Jharkhand state. They held the passengers for a short time but then withdrew. A Maoist spokesman there was no plan to cause harm and it was a symbolic gesture. The incident came a day before the second round of voting in India's general election. It was one of several rebel-linked attacks in the area. Blasts were reported at both a railway station and a government office in the state, but no-one was hurt. In neighbouring Bihar state, rebels shot and killed a truck driver in the town of Gaya, and torched several trucks. The rebels have asked people to boycott the polls, which are taking place in five phases until 13 May. Tens of thousands of security personnel have been deployed ahead of Thursday's vote. At least 17 people were killed in attacks blamed on Maoists during the first stage of the election last week. Jungle retreat The train was seized at 0830 local time (0300 GMT) as it passed through a remote part of the state. Just over three hours later the Maoists freed the hostages and retreated back into the jungle, police told the BBC. A Maoist spokesman, Gopal, told the BBC: "This was a symbolic gesture, no intention to cause harm to passengers and anyway it is very hot here." The hostage-takers - who had called for a strike in Jharkhand on Wednesday - were reportedly protesting against the death of five villagers allegedly shot by troops last week. The troops said the five were local Maoists, who were killed during a clash following an attack in which two soldiers died. Maoists operate in 182 districts in India, mainly in the states of Jharkhand, Bihar, Andhra Pradesh, Chhattisgarh, Madhya Pradesh, Maharashtra and West Bengal. This is not the first time rebels have seized a train in the area. In March 2006 they seized a train in Latehar, also in Jharkhand, taking many hostages - but freed them 12 hours later. Jharkhand is rich in minerals and forest resources, but its people are among the poorest in India. The rebels have a presence in 18 of the state's 22 districts. The rebels say they are fighting for the rights of poor peasants and landless workers.
NEW DELHI, India (CNN) -- Suspected Maoist rebels in eastern India who held up a train carrying 300 passengers Wednesday ended their siege after a four-hour standoff, officials said. No one was hurt, said A.K. Chandra of India's east-central railway. The suspected rebels seized the train, apparently to protest that some former comrades are taking part in general elections that are under way in the country. The Maoists didn't want the former rebels "to join the mainstream and, therefore, stopped this train," said Sarvendu Tathagat, deputy commission of the Latehar district in the state of Jharkhand. Jharkhand is a mineral-rich state where rebels -- known as the Naxalites -- claim to be fighting for the rights of the poor and the dispossessed who have not benefited from the state's resources. About 300 men, apparently unarmed, boarded the train, disabling its braking system as it passed through a dense forest. The hijackers released the train after "persuasion" by area villagers and railway officials, Chandra said. "They wanted your (media) presence," he said of the hijackers' possible motive. Jharkhand has seen stepped-up deadly attacks by rebels while the country is in the midst of month-long general elections. The second round of the elections begin Thursday. On April 16, when the voting began, suspected rebels triggered an explosion that forced a bus carrying border security troops to stop in the same Latehar district. When the troops stepped out, the attackers killed at least six in a three-hour gun battle. And in neighboring Bihar state, suspected Maoists, who had called for a general strike, set eight trucks on fire, shot dead a driver, and blew up a government office on Wednesday, police said. The Maoist insurgency has claimed more than 6,000 lives since the late 1960s. Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh has called the rebels India's biggest security threat. The elections, covering more than 3 million square kilometers of the planet, will run until next month in several stages of scattered polling. Then, elections officials will count the vote electronically in a single day -- on May 16, three days after the last round of polling. It is an exercise that India undertakes every five years for its 1 billion-plus population. This year, the country is voting in 543 boroughs of the Lok Sabha, or the lower house of the Indian parliament. In the elections this year, 714 million registered voters are eligible to cast ballots. The number is up 43 million from the last vote.
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