April 15, 2009 / 1:29 PM / 11 years ago

Twenty killed in Maoist attacks on election eve

RANCHI (Reuters) - At least 20 people were killed in gunbattles between police and Maoist insurgents in the eastern states of Jharkhand and Bihar on Wednesday, officials say, a day before the elections the rebels have vowed to disrupt.

Maoist rebels have called for a poll boycott and blocked roads in remote towns in the region to prevent election officials from reaching remote polling booths.

Police officers say the rebels have also threatened to chop off the hands of voters.

The Maoists, who say they are fighting for the rights of poor farmers and landless labourers, have stepped up attacks in eastern and central India ahead of election.

In Jharkhand, which goes to polls on Thursday, eight people, including five Maoist rebels and two security personnel were killed in a fierce firefight.

In neighbouring Bihar, about a dozen Maoists were killed and several policemen were wounded in a gunbattle, after rebels fired at a police camp with rocket launchers.

Prime Minister Manmohan Singh has described the Maoist violence as the biggest internal security threat, as experts said the rebels were likely to step up attacks.

Thousands have been killed in the Maoist insurgency which began in the late 1960s and now stretches throughout rural areas of eastern, central and southern India.

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