SRINAGAR: Authorities re-imposed a curfew to prevent a protest march to the main mosque in Indian-controlled Kashmir’s main city yesterday, but fresh street demonstrations and clashes still occurred amid outrage over the killing of a top rebel leader earlier this month. Residents said government forces visited homes in Srinagar before dawn and asked them to stay indoors. One resident, Bashir Ahmed, said police didn’t allow bakers and milkmen to deliver supplies in the area.
Hundreds of men and women defied the curfew after Friday prayers and marched to a United Nations office in Kashmir and held a protest demonstration. They chanted “We want freedom. Go India, Go back.” Police fired tear gas and used wooden batons to disperse the protesters. However, youths regrouped in streets later and clashed with the police, hurling rocks at them. There were no immediate reports of injuries.
Similar confrontations between the protesters and government forces also were reported from at least 10 places in northern parts of Kashmir, including Bandipora and Sopore towns. Doctors at the main hospital in Srinagar said they have treated at least 50 people for injuries, most of them caused by pellets, in the past three days. Security forces apparently continued using pellet guns despite India’s Home Minister Rajnath Singh cautioning them to minimize the weapons’ use because of serious eye injuries to protesters, some of whom have been blinded.
The curfew, re-imposed after being lifted Thursday, had been in effect since July 9, the day after Burhan Wani was killed by government forces. Security forces also prevented people from praying in big mosques across the region, but did not interfere with those visiting small neighborhood mosques in rural areas for Friday prayers. Shops, businesses and schools remained closed as separatists asked people to hold strikes and street protests. Key separatist leaders Syed Ali Geelani, Mirwaiz Umar Farooq and Yasin Malik had called for the protest march to the main Jamia Masjid mosque yesterday.
Geelani and Mirwaiz Farooq, who were put under house arrest, defied the restrictions and came out of their homes to march to the mosque. Police stopped them and took them away, a police officer said on condition of anonymity as he was not authorized to talk to reporters. Police have kept Malik in a lockup to prevent him from leading the protest. Areas of southern Kashmir where most of the deadly street protests have been centered have remained under curfew. At least 49 civilians, mostly teenagers and young men, have been killed as government forces fired live ammunition and pellets. A policeman also died after protesters pushed his vehicle into a river.
About 2,000 civilians and 1,500 police and soldiers have been injured in the clashes. Kashmir, a predominantly Muslim region, is divided between India and Pakistan, but both claim it in its entirety. The rivals have fought two wars over control of Kashmir since independence from Britain in 1947. India accuses Pakistan of arming and training Kashmiri rebels who have been fighting since 1989 for independence for Kashmir or its merger with Pakistan. Islamabad denies the charge, saying it provides political and diplomatic support to Kashmiris._ AP