India locks down parts of Kashmir as tensions spiral

A police officer throwing a tear gas canister at protesters in Srinagar, Kashmir, yesterday. Separatist leaders had urged the public to march on India's military headquarters in the disputed territory of Kashmir, after seven people were killed and do
A police officer throwing a tear gas canister at protesters in Srinagar, Kashmir on Dec 17.PHOTO: EPA-EFE

SRINAGAR (INDIA) • The Indian authorities locked down parts of restive Kashmir yesterday, as police fired tear gas at protesters who defied a curfew to march against the shooting deaths of seven civilians.

Separatist leaders had urged the public to march on India's military headquarters in the disputed territory, after seven people were killed and dozens wounded in army fire last Saturday.

The authorities took no chances in a region where protests frequently descend into bloodshed, barricading roads to the key army base with razor wire and armoured vehicles.

A total curfew was imposed in parts of Srinagar, the main city in Muslim-majority Kashmir, to try to curb any unrest. Mobile Internet services were suspended in some areas, and train services were shut down to prevent protesters from massing in numbers.

"Restrictions are in place in some city areas and in Pulwama," said Inspector-General of Police Swayam Prakash Pani, referring to Srinagar and the southern district where Saturday's shooting occurred.

Police fired tear gas to drive back dozens of protesters led by a key separatist leader who tried to reach the base in central Srinagar. Mr Yasin Malik, chief of the Jammu Kashmir Liberation Front, was detained by the police. Other key separatist leaders were put under house arrest to stop them from marshalling other protesters.

Businesses and schools across the divided Himalayan territory - which is administered by India but claimed in full by Pakistan - were closed for a third straight day, with final-year school exams delayed.

 
 
 

The army, in a statement late on Sunday, warned the population against being used to make trouble.

It said: "The army advises people not to fall prey to such designs of anti-national forces. It's an attempt to pit the civilian population against the security forces."

One soldier was killed in the Saturday violence.

Pakistan, which like India claims Kashmir in full but rules it in part, condemned the Saturday killings.

"Only dialogue and not violence and killings will resolve this conflict," said Pakistani Prime Minister Imran Khan, adding that his country would raise India's "human rights violations" at the United Nations.

Hindu-majority India accuses Pakistan of training and arming separatist militants operating in Kashmir. Pakistan denies that, saying it only offers political support to the people of the Muslim region who are being denied of their rights by India's security forces.

Indian forces say they have killed 242 militants this year in the region, while 101 civilians and 82 members of the security forces have been killed, making it the bloodiest year in more than a decade.

AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE, REUTERS

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on December 18, 2018, with the headline 'India locks down parts of Kashmir as tensions spiral'. Print Edition | Subscribe