Indian Kashmir shutdown to protest Modi visit

Shops shut and the main streets of the main city of Srinagar were empty except for police and paramilitary patrols. PHOTO: EPA-EFE

SRINAGAR, India (AFP, REUTERS ) - Large parts of Indian Kashmir closed down Saturday (May 19) to protest a visit by Prime Minister Narendra Modi to the Muslim-majority region gripped by deadly new tensions and clashes with rival Pakistan.

Shops shut and the main streets of the main city, Srinagar, were empty except for police and paramilitary patrols while authorities laid on maximum security for Modi's one-day visit.

Authorities cut mobile internet services in the region and imposed a curfew in parts of Srinigar.

Separatist groups opposed to Indian rule of Kashmir have called for a strike and a protest march to a city square. Main roads and the square were barricaded by razor wire to stop anyone getting in.

"We are not taking any chances. We'll do everything to keep the militants at bay," a top police officer told AFP on condition of anonymity.

Authorities also ordered schools, colleges and universities shut for the day apprehending student protests.

The main venue for the prime minister's visit to Srinigar, the Dal Lake tourist attraction, was made out of bounds to the public.

Modi started the tour in Leh, a remote high altitude desert area of the disputed territory popular with trekkers.

"I thank the wonderful people of Leh for the warm welcome. I am delighted to be here," Modi said on Twitter.

The visit came a day after eight civilians - four in India and four in Pakistan - and an Indian soldier were killed in a heavy mortar fire and gunbattle between Indian and Pakistani forces.

Modi was to go to Srinagar and the other main city of Jammu later in the day to inaugurate a hydropower project near the border with Pakistan.

The plant has prompted protest from neighbour Pakistan that says the project on a river flowing into Pakistan would disrupt water supplies.

The 330 megawatt Kishanganga hydropower station, work on which started in 2009, is one of the projects that India has fast-tracked in the volatile state under Modi amid frosty ties between the nuclear-armed countries.

Pakistan controls part of the divided territory and like India claims Kashmir in full.

India has ordered its estimated 500,000 troops in Kashmir to suspend military operations against rebels during the Ramadan holy month that started Wednesday.

But on top of the border clash, fighting with militants has not halted.

Late Friday, Indian troops killed three suspected militants close to the heavily militarised unofficial border with Pakistan in the north-west of the territory, media reports said.

Army officers, who were not named, were quoted as saying the militants attacked a patrol in a forest sparking a firefight. The incident could not be independently verified.

Kashmir has been divided between India and Pakistan since the end of British rule in 1947. Rebel groups have since 1989 been fighting for an independent Kashmir or a merger with Pakistan.

Tens of thousands of people, mostly civilians, have died in the fighting.

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