Kashmir mobs defy curfew, two protesters dead
Curfew was imposed in the Kashmir Valley Saturday as curfew-defying mobs pelted stones at police.
Srinagar: Two people were shot dead by security forces Saturday as deaths continued to mount during weeks of defiant protests against India`s rule over the predominantly Muslim region of Kashmir.
Unrest that has killed at least 57 people since June shows no signs of abating despite the deployment of thousands of troops and calls from India`s Prime Minister Manmohan Singh for calm. Tens of thousands of Kashmiris staged angry demonstrations Friday after government forces killed four people and wounded 31 others.
The situation in recent weeks has been reminiscent of the late 1980s, when protests against New Delhi`s rule sparked the armed conflict that has so far killed more than 68,000 people, mostly civilians.
Paramilitary soldiers opened fire with live ammunition Saturday on hundreds of rock-throwing demonstrators in Anantnag, a town south of Indian-administered Kashmir`s main city Srinagar.
A 35-year-old man was killed and at least four people were wounded, said a police officer on condition of anonymity, as he was not authorized to speak to the media.
The shooting triggered massive protests in the town as thousands of residents filled the streets chanting pro-independence slogans.
A young man was also killed in the northern town of Narbal after troops fired at a group of stone-throwing protesters, the police officer said.
Anti-India sentiment runs deep in Kashmir, which is divided between Hindu-majority 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.
Authorities reimposed a strict curfew in Srinagar and in most major towns Saturday.
"We`re taking no chances and have imposed the curfew to stop more protests," another police officer said on condition of anonymity because he also was not authorized to speak to the media.
Displaying their defiance, however, thousands of people staged marches across much of the region. Most of the protests were peaceful but clashes broke out in some places after security forces tried to block curfew-defying marchers.
In Srinagar, police fired warning shots and tear gas after hundreds of worshippers at the revered Dargah Hazratbal shrine refused to leave after noon prayers and shouted "Go India! Go back" and "We want freedom," the police officer said. At least three people were wounded, he said.
Hundreds of protesters threw rocks at a security camp in Seelo, northwest of Srinagar, and paramilitary soldiers responded by firing live ammunition and tear gas, the officer said. At least two people were wounded.
In Singhpora village in the north, paramilitary soldiers fired at a young man when he threw stones at a passing paramilitary vehicle, critically wounding him, the officer said.
In Srinagar, government forces laid razor wire and erected steel barricades to block access to the city`s normally congested downtown areas. Troops drove through many neighborhoods and told residents to stay indoors.
The curfew in Srinagar was lifted Friday after a key separatist leader and cleric, Mirwaiz Umar Farooq, warned of total defiance if worshippers were stopped from praying at the Jamia Masjid, the city`s main mosque.
Chief Minister Omar Abdullah, Indian-administered Kashmir`s top elected official, planned to review the situation with top army, paramilitary and police officials on Saturday, an official statement said.
Separatists say the protests against Indian rule will continue despite the Muslim fasting month of Ramadan, which began Thursday.