SRINAGAR• (India) • Indian forces were on high alert across Kashmir to head off protests after Friday prayers at mosques, as tensions remained high over the ending of the disputed region's autonomy, residents and reports said.
A five-day-old lockdown with no Internet or phone communications appeared tighter than ever, though the region's police chief told Agence France-Presse (AFP) that the curfew would be eased so the Muslim-majority population could pray.
Kashmir's director-general of police Dilbag Singh said people could go to mosques "within their neighbourhood", but added: "They should not venture out of their local area."
The giant Jama Masjid mosque in Srinagar - a long-time focus for separatist protests - remained closed as the government sought to keep a lid on unrest after it cancelled the constitutionally guaranteed privileges of the former Himalayan kingdom, residents told AFP.
Protests against Indian rule have frequently broken out in Srinagar's old quarter after weekly prayers at the mosque, which can hold more than 30,000 worshippers.
"It's tense," one resident said after going near the mosque. "There are troops everywhere."
Tens of thousands of extra Indian troops were sent to enforce the clampdown imposed ahead of Monday's presidential decree to tighten central control on the region that is also claimed by Pakistan.
The reinforcements and the 500,000 troops already in Kashmir fighting a three-decade-old insurgency were put on "high alert" for trouble around Friday prayers, the Press Trust of India news agency reported from Srinagar, quoting a security official.
"There is apprehension of mass protests and accordingly, necessary steps were taken," the official added.
Despite the huge security presence, sporadic protests have been reported in recent days in Srinagar and the Ladakh region, which the government has split away from Jammu and Kashmir under the new measures.
The police have chased groups of pro-separatist demonstrators in Srinagar, many of whom gather at night, residents said. One youth died this week after jumping into a river to escape chasing security forces, according to police.
In a sign of international concerns raised by Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi's move, Pakistan Foreign Minister Shah Mehmood Qureshi went to Beijing for hastily arranged talks with his Chinese counterpart Wang Yi.
Islamabad has strongly condemned New Delhi's action in Kashmir. While Pakistan has expelled the Indian ambassador and suspended bilateral trade, Mr Qureshi has said his country would not seek a new conflict with its neighbour.
China, which also controls a sector of Kashmir, protested this week after India reaffirmed its claim to China's Kashmir territory on a Himalayan plateau.
Indian Foreign Minister Subrahmanyam Jaishankar is to visit Beijing from Sunday for talks with Mr Wang.
Friday prayers were the start of a crucial test of New Delhi's ability to enforce the decision by Mr Modi's Hindu nationalist government.
The major Muslim festival of Eid al-Adha is on Monday. Mr Modi said in a nationwide address on Thursday that people will "not face difficulties" celebrating Eid.
However, media reports said the authorities would decide on curfew restrictions only on Sunday. In his speech, Mr Modi strongly defended his intervention in Kashmir.