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Massive protests erupt in Kashmir

Thousands march after police kill 4

Kashmiris shouted slogans such as “Go India! Go back’’ and “We want freedom’’ at a protest yesterday in Srinagar, India. Kashmiris shouted slogans such as “Go India! Go back’’ and “We want freedom’’ at a protest yesterday in Srinagar, India. (Mukhtar Khan/Associated Press)
By Aijaz Hussain
Associated Press / August 14, 2010

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SRINAGAR, India — Tens of thousands of Kashmiris staged angry street demonstrations yesterday after government forces killed four people and injured 31 others during the latest unrest against Indian rule in the disputed Himalayan region.

Two months of violent clashes with security forces have left at least 55 people dead in Indian-controlled Kashmir; mostly protesters have been shot. The unrest shows no signs of easing despite the deployment of more troops and calls from the Indian prime minister for calm.

Residents staged protest marches after prayers yesterday across much of the predominantly Muslim region. Most of the marches were peaceful but in some places clashes broke out after security forces tried to block curfew-defying marchers.

Paramilitary soldiers opened fire in Bomai, a village northwest of the main city of Srinagar, after thousands of protesters gathered and threw rocks at the troops, a police officer said. Two people were killed and at least four others wounded, he said on condition of anonymity as he was not authorized to speak to the media.

Local residents maintained that the protest was peaceful and clashes only erupted after the shooting. Protesters surrounded a camp of paramilitary troops and threw bricks and rocks at it.

In the northern town of Pattan, troops fired at a group of people who defied the curfew, killing a 65-year-old man and wounding two others, another police officer said, also on condition of anonymity.

As the news of the shooting spread, thousands of people came out of their homes and clashed with government forces at several places in the town, police said.

In Trehgam, north of Srinagar, protesters threw stones at government forces, angered by their refusal to allow them to visit a mosque for prayers on the first Friday after the start of the Muslim fasting month of Ramadan, resident Maqsood Ahmed said.

The security forces fired at the protesters, killing a teenage student and wounding at least six others, the police officer said. The protesters were later joined by thousands of residents from neighboring villages, leading to more clashes, he said.

Anti-India sentiment runs deep in Kashmir, which is divided between India and Pakistan but claimed by both. Protesters reject Indian sovereignty over Kashmir and want to form a separate country or merge with predominantly Muslim Pakistan.

The situation in the volatile region in recent weeks has been reminiscent of the late 1980s, when protests against New Delhi’s rule sparked an armed conflict that has killed more than 68,000 people, mostly civilians.

In Srinagar, authorities did not impose a curfew yesterday after a key separatist leader and cleric, Mirwaiz Umar Farooq, warned of total defiance if worshipers were stopped from praying at the Jamia Masjid, the city’s main mosque.

The mosque has remained out of bounds for people on Fridays for the past six weeks to avoid protests.

Tens of thousands of people marched through the winding streets of downtown Srinagar yesterday and offered prayers at the mosque. They chanted “Go India! Go back’’ and “We want freedom.’’ Scores of people on motorbikes waved green flags.

Most police and paramilitary soldiers had withdrawn to their camps to avoid clashes, but several skirmishes broke out anyway. At least five protesters, three with bullet wounds, were hospitalized, police said.

Clashes erupted at least in four other towns in Kashmir and at least 14 people were injured, police said.

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