Curfew, mass arrests in Indian Kashmir ahead of Modi visit

Indian paramilitary troopers patrolling near the venue of Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi's scheduled rally in Srinagar on Nov 6, 2015.
Indian paramilitary troopers patrolling near the venue of Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi's scheduled rally in Srinagar on Nov 6, 2015.PHOTO: AFP

SRINAGAR, India (AFP) - Authorities ordered a curfew in parts of Indian-administered Kashmir on Friday after hundreds of separatist activists were arrested on the eve of Prime Minister Narendra Modi's visit to the disputed region.

In the main city of Srinagar, shops and schools remained shut, university exams were cancelled for the day and public transport was suspended as hundreds of police and paramilitary forces patrolled the streets.

Mr Modi is scheduled to address a public rally in Srinagar on Saturday, where he is expected to announce economic assistance, more than a year after massive flooding inflicted US$16 billion (S$22.5 billion) worth of damage across the territory.

"Restrictions were imposed to prevent breach of peace before the prime minister's rally," a senior police officer told AFP on condition of anonymity.

Nearly 300 activists have been arrested to prevent them from mobilising, another police officer said.

Security has been beefed up ahead of Mr Modi's visit, with the Muslim-majority region already tense following incidents of religious intolerance and attacks on minorities in many parts of India.

"I was not allowed to go to work because of the soldiers on the street outside my home," Mr Waheed Ahmed, a mason living in the old city area of Srinagar told AFP by phone.

After Mr Modi's rally was announced earlier in the week, police detained all top separatist leaders or confined them to their homes, local media reports said.

Authorities denied permission for a counter-rally, dubbed Million March, called by separatist groups on Saturday to press their demands for self-determination and freedom from Indian rule.

Kashmir has been divided between India and Pakistan since the end of British colonial rule in 1947, but is claimed by both in its entirety.

Some separatist leaders remained defiant, however.

"Our Million March will go ahead come what may," Mr Syed Ali Geelani, the senior-most separatist leader who called for the counter-rally, said in a statement Thursday.

A separatist insurgency against Indian rule of the territory and India's counter-insurgency campaign since 1989 has left tens of thousands, mostly civilians, dead.