Kashmir seethes as 25 killed in clashes with Indian forces


SRINAGAR, India (AP) — Indian authorities struggled to contain street protests Monday by Kashmiris defying patrols and a stringent curfew after at least 25 people died in clashes that followed the killing of a top rebel leader.

Paramilitary troops and police in riot gear patrolled villages and towns in the Himalayan region. Most shops were shuttered, businesses were closed, and cellphone and mobile internet services were suspended in parts of the region. But crowds ignored the clampdown and clashed with government troops in parts of the main city of Srinagar and several other places in the region.

At least two teenagers injured in the clashes died in a hospital on Monday, said a police officer who spoke on condition of anonymity as he was not authorized to speak to reporters.

The protests erupted Saturday, a day after Indian troops killed Burhan Wani, the young leader of Kashmir’s largest rebel group, Hizbul Mujahideen, which has been fighting since the 1990s against Indian rule. Wani, in his early 20s, had become the iconic face of Kashmir’s militancy, using social media to rally supporters and reach out to other youths like him who had grown up while hundreds of thousands of Indian armed forces have been deployed across the region.

Police Inspector-General Syed Javaid Mujtaba Gillani described Wani’s killing as the “biggest success against militants” in recent years.

Pakistan’s foreign secretary expressed its concerns over the killings of Wani and civilian protesters to Indian authorities Monday evening. Foreign Secretary Aizaz Ahmad Chaudhry conveyed to Indian High Commissioner Gautam Bambawale that the use of force against peaceful protesters was a human rights violation and that a fair inquiry should be made into the killings, according to the secretary’s statement.

Pakistan and India each administer part of Kashmir but claim the region entirely. In the portion controlled by India, opposition to India is strong. Many in the region of 12 million people resent the deployment of hundreds of thousands of Indian troops and openly voice support for the rebels fighting for independence or a merger with neighboring Pakistan.

As news of Wani’s death spread among Kashmiris, spontaneous protests grew and crowds of youths threw rocks at Indian police and paramilitary soldiers, shouting “Go India, go back!” Police said protesters attacked them and burned scores of police and paramilitary posts and some homes of pro-India politicians.

At least 24 civilians and one policeman have died from wounds sustained in clashes since Saturday, as law enforcement officers used live ammunition, pellet guns and tear gas to try to break up the protests.

Most of those killed were teens and men younger than 26 from southern Kashmir, police said. In addition, more than 150 civilians and 100 government troops have been injured. At least 10 of the injured civilians were in serious condition.

In several neighborhoods in Srinagar, activists painted graffiti on iron shutters of shops and walls, deploring India and eulogizing Wani. Messages that they wrote included “Burhan our hero” and “Burhan still in our hearts.”

Since the 1990s, more than 68,000 people have been killed in Kashmir’s uprising against Indian rule and the subsequent Indian military crackdown.

Amid the protests, Indian officials suspended an annual Hindu pilgrimage to a mountain cave that draws about half a million people each year. Authorities also postponed school and college examinations and suspended rail services.

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