2 paramilitary men killed ahead of voting in Bihar

Suspected Maoist rebels blew up a jeep carrying paramilitary soldiers, killing two and wounding three others early Thursday, hours before voting began in eastern Bihar state in the third phase of India's national elections, police said.

The soldiers were patrolling a forest in a rebel stronghold in Munger district when their jeep hit a land mine nearly 225 kilometers (145 miles) southeast of Patna, the state capital, police officer Jitendra Rana said.

Maoist rebels have urged people to boycott the elections in the region. However, voting remained unaffected and started as scheduled on Thursday morning, Rana said.

Millions of people are voting in the third phase of the elections, covering parts of 11 of India's 28 states. The multiphase voting across the country runs until May 12, with results for the 543-seat lower house of parliament announced May 16.

The main Hindu opposition, with strong momentum on promises of a surge in economic growth, appears to be leading the race to end the Congress party's 10 years in power.

The threat of insurgent attacks is looming large on the Indian elections.

Voting in the first two phases was held in parts of the insurgency-wracked states in northeast of the country on Monday and Wednesday. But no violence was reported, with thousands of soldiers guarding voting stations.

On Wednesday, Maoist rebels killed three soldiers in a gun battle in central Chhattisgarh state a day before voting started.

In March, rebels killed 15 government soldiers and one civilian in their deadliest raid in Chhattisgarh in almost a year, ambushing dozens of troops and police guarding construction workers.

Prime Minister Manmohan Singh has called the rebels India's biggest internal security threat. They operate in 20 of India's 28 states and have thousands of fighters, according to the Home Ministry.

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