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A wave of violence erupted Saturday during the third of five rounds in Indian parliamentary elections. Forty-four people died as guerrillas blew up a police patrol and election boycotters clashed with security forces.

After the third round, Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee's coalition firmed its lead over the leading opposition party, Sonia Gandhi's Congress Party, and was poised to return to power with a parliamentary majority, according to an exit poll broadcast on state-run television.

But the balloting was accompanied by violence, mainly by leftist guerrillas using the event to continue their class war against the wealthy they see represented in the government.

Thirty-four of the 44 victims were policemen, soldiers, election workers and magistrates. They were killed when at least eight land mines exploded under vehicles carrying them to work at polling stations in northeast Bihar, India's poorest and most lawless province, according to authorities.

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