Indian PM on rare Kashmir trip after deadly attack

SRINAGAR, India (AFP) - Prime Minister Manmohan Singh faced protests as he arrived for a rare visit to Indian Kashmir on Tuesday, a day after militants killed eight soldiers in the deadliest attack in the region for five years.

Dr Singh said India was united in the fight against terrorism after landing in the southern town of Kishtwar as part of the two-day trip, his first to the region for three years.

"India is firmly united against terrorism. (We) Won't let them succeed in their nefarious designs," the premier told Indian media in Kishtwar, where he laid a foundation stone for a hydro-power plant.

Dr Singh stressed in a speech that violence "had shown a sharp decline and was the lowest in last two decades," the Press Trust of India news agency reported.

Dr Singh was accompanied by Sonia Gandhi, the president of the ruling Congress party, for the visit in which he will inspect major infrastructure projects and inaugurate part of a railway line to connect north and south Kashmir.

It is the first time the premier has visited the Indian-controlled part of the divided Himalayan territory - which has been the scene of two wars with Pakistan - since June 2010 and comes less than a year before India goes to the polls.

Police and paramilitary forces have been deployed in strength across the region for the visit, including in the main city of Srinagar where the premier is expected later Tuesday. Shops and other businesses, along with schools, banks and offices were closed throughout the city after the three main separatist groups called a strike to protest Dr Singh's visit.

Government forces were enforcing curfew-like restrictions in the volatile and congested old town in Srinagar.

"We are confined to our homes whenever a politician from Delhi visits our Kashmir," a resident of the area said by phone, adding that he was not able to leave his neighbourhood for work.