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SRINAGAR: Life across the Kashmir Valley was affected on Saturday due to a shutdown called by the Joint Resistance Leadership (JRL) against the panchayat polls which began today in the state. The shutdown was called by the Joint Resistance Leadership (JRL), a separatist conglomerate headed by Syed Ali Geelani, Mirwaiz Umer Farooq and Muhammad Yasin Malik.

According to reports there were no restrictions in any part of the Srinagar city Srinagar though security forces were deployed in strength to maintain law and order. However, historic Jamia Masjid in downtown Srinagar was closed yet again as a precautionary measure to prevent any protests. Polling was held in 47 blocks in the first of the nine phase panchayat elections in Jammu and Kashmir amid unprecedented security arrangements following a general strike called by separatists and apprehension of militant attempt to disrupt the process.

Shops and business establishments were closed and traffic was off the road in downtown, civil lines and uptown Srinagar though few private vehicles, particularly two-wheelers, could be seen plying on some routes. Business and other activities remained crippled in main business hubs of the city, including historic Lal Chowk, the nerve-centre of summer capital, Budshah Chowk, Regal Chowk, Maisuma, Hari Singh High Street (HSHS), Batamaloo, Moulana Azad Road, Residency Road and Dalgate.

All the gates of Jamia Masjid, stronghold of chairman of moderate Hurriyat Conference (HC) Mirwaiz Molvi Omar Farooq, are locked since this morning. A large number of security forces and state police personnel have been deployed in the Jamia market and outside the worship place to prevent people from entering there. Additional security forces, wearing bullet proof jackets and holding weapons and lathis in their hands, were seen patrolling the streets in Srinagar areas to prevent any untoward incident.

Joint Resistance Alliance (JRL), comprising Syed Ali Shah Geelani, Mirwaiz Molvi Omar Farooq and Mohammad Yaseen Malik, had called for a general strike on Saturday against the panchayat polls. The separatists have also urged people to boycott the elections. Hundreds of security forces and state police personnel were deployed to maintain law and order in major towns and tehsil headquarters in south Kashmir districts of Kulgam, Pulwama, Anantnag and Shopian, where business and other activities were paralyzed and traffic was off the roads in support of the strike.

Life also came to a grinding halt in central Kashmir districts of Budgam and Ganderbal in support of the strike called by separatists. A report from Baramulla said life was crippled in this and other north Kashmir towns and tehsil headquarters, where shops were closed and traffic was off the road in support of the strike. Additional security forces have been deployed in entire north Kashmir to prevent any law and order problem.

Polling for the first phase started in all the 1,303 polling stations spread over six Kashmir districts at 0800 hrs and will end at 1400 hrs. The areas where polling was held in the valley in the first phase include Keran, Ramhal, Tarathpora, Teetwal and Tangdar in Kupwara; Gurez, Baktoor and Tulail in Bandipora; Kunzer, Uri, Parenpillan, Noorkah and Kandi-Belt Rafiabad in Baramulla; Gund in Ganderbal; Khanmoh in Srinagar and Khansahib in Budgam district.