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Elections resume in India; more deaths are reported

About 50-million Indian voters returned to the polls Wednesday in a national election disrupted last month by the assassination of former prime minister Rajiv Gandhi. The voting in 113 parliamentary districts spread around the country was generally peaceful, although at least 12 people died in the lawless northeastern state of Bihar.

The violence was on a much smaller scale than during the first phase of voting. About 250 people have been killed since May in election violence, making this the deadliest vote in India's history.

In the south, seasonal monsoon rains and flooding forced voters to wade to polling booths in some areas and contributed to a generally light to moderate turnout. Because of the delay in voting caused by Gandhi's death, this has become the first national poll held during the country's southwest monsoon, a period of heavy showers that usually lasts from June until September.

Elections in this land of 844-million people began May 20 but were postponed for three weeks after Gandhi's assassination May 21.

Gandhi, a former prime minister and candidate of the Congress Party, was killed by a woman suicide bomber as he arrived for an election rally in the southern state of Tamil Nadu.

The low turnout on Wednesday dampened Congress party hopes for a surge of sympathy votes stemming from Gandhi's assassination and improved the prospects of its main rival, the right-wing Hindu revivalist Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP).

Chief Election Commissioner T.N. Sheshan said voter turnout had been estimated at around 50 percent and polling had "passed off reasonably well."

More than 100-million people _ nearly one-fifth of the world's biggest electorate _ were eligible to vote Wednesday. Most of the rest were scheduled to vote Saturday.

Analysts see no party winning a majority in the 545-seat parliament. They say a coalition, probably forming around Congress, which has ruled India for all but three years since independence from Britain in 1947, is almost inevitable. Vote-counting starts Sunday and firm results were expected within two days.

After months of bloody riots, particularly in the densely populated north, the electorate has been polarized along religious and caste lines, and there has been a widening gap between the rich and poor. Since Gandhi's assassination, the election has become even more emotional.

Authorities on Wednesday arrested two residents of southern Tamil Nadu state for allegedly sheltering Gandhi's assassin, the United News of India reported.

The agency said the assassin has been tentatively identified as Thanu, but it provided no further details about her background.

Investigators have been trying to locate and identify several people standing near the assassin in a grainy photograph snapped moments before she detonated a bomb strapped beneath her clothes.

The explosion killed the woman, the former prime minister and more than a dozen others, including the free-lance photographer who took the photo.

_ Information from the Washington Post, the Associated Press and Reuters was used in this report.