Bloodshed marred the fourth round of Assembly elections in West Bengal when five persons died after security forces allegedly opened fire at voters in two separate incidents during polling in the Sitalkuchi Assembly constituency in Cooch Behar this morning.

The incidents also left three others injured. Police sources said the incident was triggered by a “rumour” that a boy had been shot at by the Central forces.

In the wake of the violence, the Election Commission this evening decided to bar the entry of politicians to Cooch Behar district for the next 72 hours.

The EC has also extended the “silence period” from 48 hours to 72 hours for the fifth phase of polling, scheduled on 17 April.

In many areas of the districts of south Bengal, the vehicles of several candidates were vandalised and at least six persons were arrested over an attack on the vehicle of Locket Chatterjee, BJP candidate from Hooghly.

The first incident in Cooch Behar’s Sitalkuchi occurred at a polling station area when a new voter identified as Ananda Barman was shot when Central forces opened fire during a political clash, sources said.

Significantly, though all the relatives of the deceased claimed that Barman was a BJP supporter, outgoing North Bengal Development Minister and Trinamul Congress leader Rabindranath Ghosh said “BJP goons” attacked his supporters and killed Barman.

Immediately after the incident, four persons belonging to the minority community were killed in similar firing at a different location near the 5/126 polling station (Madrasa Siksha Kendra) under the constituency. One of the injured there has sustained bullet injuries on his hip, it is learnt.

“While local TMC activists claimed that the Central forces opened fire without provocation, election officials initially reported to the Election Commission that the forces rushed there after a political clash broke out between two groups. As locals attacked the forces, they opened fire in self-defense,” a source said.

After visiting the site, DIG of Police, Jalpaiguri Range, Annappa E, said: “A 14-year-old ailing boy was playing at the site of the violence when a group of women tried to rescue him.

A group of Central forces rushed to the area and arranged to have the boy taken to hospital. In the meantime, someone informed others that the boy was shot at by the CISF.

The trouble broke out immediately after the rumour spread and hundreds of angry locals, including women, attacked the forces and tried to snatch weapons from them. Central forces opened fire in selfdefense. Four persons died on the spot and four others were injured.”

An overall voter turnout of 76.16 per cent was recorded till 5 p.m. during the fourth phase today for 44 seats across the five districts of Alipurduar, Cooch Behar, Hooghly Howrah and South 24-Parganas. The highest polling percentage of 79.73 was recorded in Cooch Behar followed by Hooghly (76.02), South 24 Parganas (75.49), Howrah (75.03) and Alipurduar (73.65).

“Barring two incidents in Sitalkuchi in Cooch Behar where five persons died, polling was by and large peaceful. Till now, 2,371 complaints have been received by the commission,” said West Bengal CEO Ariz Aftab at a press conference this evening.

Meanwhile in many areas of south Bengal districts, vehicles of several candidates were vandalised.

In Howrah, BJP candidate from Bally Baishali Dalmiya complained that her vehicle was vandalised by alleged Trinamul backed goons while in South 24- Parganas, BJP candidate from Behala East Paayal Sarkar’s car was allegedly damaged in Haridevpur.

BJP candidate from Kasba Dr Indranil Khan alleged that he was attacked by some miscreants when he tried to protest against the “bike bahinis” that were moving around the polling booths and complained that the CRPF jawans were mute spectators.

In Ganguly Bagan area in Jadavpur constituency, the booth agent of CPI-M candidate Sujan Chakraborty was reportedly attacked by a “fake voter” and a central police contingent was rushed to the spot.

In Bhangar in South 24- Parganas, clashes were reported after ISF alleged the ruling party was not allowing their polling agents to enter the booth. Similar clashes between rival party workers were witnessed in Chanditala and Bandel in Hooghly.

The EC on Saturday directed the Union Home Ministry to deploy 71 additional companies of Central Armed Police forces (CAPFs) in Bengal for the conduct of the remaining four phases of polls.