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March 25, 2019

Kashmir locked down as Indian forces warn against protests

Kashmir locked down as Indian forces warn against protests
'Indian police fired tear gas to drive back dozens of Kashmiri protesters led by a key separatist leader who tried to reach an Indian military base' - By: AFP TAUSEEF MUSTAFA

Indian authorities locked down parts of restive Kashmir on Monday as police fired tear gas at protesters defying a curfew to march against the shooting death of seven civilians.

Separatist leaders had urged the public to march on India's military headquarters in the disputed territory, after seven people were killed and dozens wounded in army fire on Saturday.

Authorities took no chances in a region where protests frequently descend into bloodshed, barricading roads to the key army base with razor wire and armoured vehicles.

A total curfew was imposed in parts of Srinagar, the main city in Muslim-majority Kashmir, to try and curb any unrest.

Mobile internet services were also suspended in some areas, and train services shut down to prevent protesters from massing in numbers.

"Restrictions are in place in some city areas and in Pulwama," inspector general of police Swayam Prakash Pani told AFP, referring to Srinagar and the southern district where Saturday's shooting occurred.

Police fired tear gas to drive back dozens of protesters led by a key separatist leader who tried to reach the base in central Srinagar.

Yasin Malik, chief of the Jammu Kashmir Liberation Front, was detained by police. Other key separatist leaders were put under house arrest to stop them marshalling other protesters.

Businesses and schools across the divided Himalayan territory -- which is administered by India but also claimed in full by Pakistan -- were closed for a third straight day, with final year school exams delayed.

India's army, which has half a million troops deployed in the region, urged the public to ignore the call to protest and blamed Pakistan for stoking unrest.

"Indian Army strongly condemns this call by Pak(istan) proxies and advises people not to fall prey to such designs of anti-national forces," an army spokesman said in a statement issued late Sunday.

India has long accused Pakistan of funding and arming rebels fighting in Kashmir.

Islamabad has denied this, saying it only provides political and diplomatic support to Kashmiris fighting for self-determination.

Saturday's shooting ignited fresh anger across the region, which has witnessed its bloodiest year since 2009 and increasingly violent public opposition to Indian rule.

Popular support for rebels fighting for independence or a merger with Pakistan has grown in recent years and villagers, sometimes in their thousands, swarm the sites of gun battles with government forces to assist insurgents.

The weekend violence also saw three armed rebels and an Indian soldier killed in a shootout.

Pakistan Prime Minister Imran Khan condemned Saturday's violence, saying Islamabad would raise the issue at the United Nations.

Kashmir has been divided between India and Pakistan since the two gained freedom from British rule in 1947.

More than 70,000 people -- mostly civilians -- have died since an insurgency against Indian rule began in 1989.

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