India puts Kashmir in lockdown on death anniversary of rebel leader

Kashmiri protesters. right, throw stones toward Indian government forces during clashes in Srinagar, India, on Saturday.

:: Residents in Indian-controlled Kashmir clashed with government forces on Saturday as they defied a stringent curfew on the anniversary of the killing of a charismatic rebel leader whose death triggered open defiance against Indian rule.

Officials and witnesses said residents in the main city of Srinagar and at least four places in southern Kashmir tried to march on the streets while chanting slogans in favor of rebels and ending Indian rule. Police and paramilitary soldiers fired tear gas to disperse the crowds.

The protesters responded by hurling rocks at troops. At least 15 people were reported injured in the clashes.

While Kashmir has remained on edge, the Indian and Pakistani armies, which regularly trade fire and blame across the de-facto militarized frontier that divides the disputed territory between them, fired at each other’s positions, killing seven people on both sides of the frontier.

Five people died on Pakistan’s side of the disputed border and 10 were wounded in cross-border shelling, local police officials said.

Pakistan’s government said it summoned India’s Deputy High Commissioner J.P. Singh over what it called “unprovoked ceasefire violations.”

The Indian army’s defense spokesman said two civilians were killed on its side of the frontier and two injured due to shelling by Pakistani troops. The army responded in kind to the Pakistani shelling, he said.

For the second straight day, government forces sealed off the hometown of Burhan Wani, the 22-year-old rebel leader who was killed along with two associates in a gun battle with Indian troops last year. Witnesses said security forces ordered residents in southern Tral town to stay indoors.

“I’ve never seen so many soldiers in aggressive posturing enforcing a curfew in my town. This is an unprecedented restriction,” local resident Mohammed Hanief said by phone.

Troops laid steel barricades and coiled razor wire on roads and intersections to cut off neighborhoods as authorities anticipated widespread protests. They also shut mobile internet services as part of the lockdown to stop activists from rallying online support.

“We’re enforcing strict restrictions to deal with any law and order issues,” said S.P. Vaid, the region’s police chief.

Separatist leaders, who challenge India’s sovereignty over Kashmir, called for a strike and protests to honor Wani. Most of the top leaders have either been detained or put under house arrest.

Wani’s killing set off months of protests and deadly clashes across the region, during which at least 90 people were killed and thousands injured.

Wani, who attracted dozens of new recruits while using Facebook and other social media sites, had rejuvenated Hizbul Mujahideen, the largest of Kashmir’s militant groups.

In Muzaffarabad, the capital of Pakistani-controlled Kashmir, Salahuddin asked Pakistan for military support to militants as he spoke on Saturday at a rally attended by thousands of people to honor Wani.

“We don’t need only political, diplomatic and moral support. Now we need a solid military support against Indian forces,” Salahuddin said.

The death of Wani and the public fury it caused made the armed rebellion mainstream in Kashmir and gave new life to the militant movement that had withered in recent years, reduced to just about 100 fighters in scattered rebel outfits. Officials say that since his killing, at least 100 young men have joined rebel ranks, some of them after snatching weapons from soldiers and police. — Agencies

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