Truck driver killed in Kashmir ahead of Modi-Trump talks

People shout slogans during a protest against India over Kashmir conflicts, in Karachi, Pakistan on Aug 25, 2019.
People shout slogans during a protest against India over Kashmir conflicts, in Karachi, Pakistan on Aug 25, 2019.PHOTO: EPA-EFE

SRINAGAR, India (AFP) - Stone-throwing protesters in Indian Kashmir killed a driver of what they thought was a military truck, police said on Monday (Aug 26), as a crippling security lockdown entered its fourth week.

The fatality came ahead of talks between Indian Premier Narendra Modi and United States President Donald Trump at the Group of Seven summit in France when Mr Trump will reportedly press Mr Modi to lift a communications blackout in the restive region and show "utmost restraint".

On Aug 5, Mr Modi's Hindu-nationalist government revoked the autonomy of the Muslim-majority territory where tens of thousands of people have been killed in an uprising against Indian rule since 1989, most of them civilians.

New Delhi sent reinforcements to the estimated half a million troops already stationed in Kashmir, cut phone lines and the Internet, placed severe restrictions on movement and arrested thousands, according to multiple sources.

The turning of the former Himalayan kingdom of seven million people into a fortress of barricades and barbed wire has not prevented protests and clashes with security forces from taking place, however.

In the latest demonstration on Sunday in Anantnag district, protesters hurled stones at a truck that they believed to be a military vehicle. The 42-year-old driver was struck on the head and died, police said.

The Press Trust of India news agency said two men had been arrested over the incident.

OPPOSITION DELEGATION TURNED AWAY

India says no civilian has died from police action since Aug 5.

But residents have said three people have been killed, including a young mother who choked after police fired tear-gas canisters into her home.

 
 

Multiple hospital sources have told AFP at least 100 people had been hurt during the lockdown, some with firearm injuries.

The authorities say they have been easing restrictions gradually but a delegation led by key opposition figure Rahul Gandhi was turned away at Srinagar airport last Saturday after flying in from New Delhi to assess the situation.

"It's been 20 days since the people of Jammu & Kashmir had their freedom and civil liberties curtailed. Leaders of the Opposition and the Press got a taste of the draconian administration and brute force unleashed on the people when we tried to visit Srinagar yesterday," Mr Gandhi tweeted on Sunday.

Regional police chief Dilbagh Singh told AFP that Mr Gandhi was turned back because in a situation "getting to normalcy", they wanted to avoid any "controversial statement".

TRUMP TALKS

Jammu and Kashmir Governor Satya Pal Malik on Sunday defended the restrictions, echoing the government which says the curbs are meant to maintain peace in the disputed region also claimed by arch-rival Pakistan.

"There has not been a single case of killing in J&K in the last 10 days. If communication blackout helps in order to save a human life, what is the harm," Mr Malik was quoted as saying in multiple media reports.

 
 

But Indian news reports also suggested there is unease in Washington and that, at their talks later on Monday on the sidelines of the G-7 summit in Biarritz, Mr Trump would press Mr Modi on easing regional tensions and addressing human rights.

"India's decision to rescind Article 370 in Kashmir is an internal decision, but certainly with regional implications," the Indian Express quoted a US official as saying.

Mr Trump "is likely to stress the need for dialogue among all sides of the conflict and his hope that India will lift the communications and movement restrictions in Kashmir and exercise utmost restraint in dealing with potential protests", the official said.

At the same time, the official stressed that Mr Trump "is also calling on Pakistan to prevent the infiltration of militants across the Line of Control that divides Kashmir and to crack down on groups on its territory that have attacked India in the past".

India has insisted Kashmir is purely an internal matter and that it does not want outside mediation, something the US president has offered.

"Any discussion on Kashmir, if at all warranted, will only be with Pakistan and only bilaterally," Foreign Minister Subrahmanyam Jaishankar was quoted as saying last Friday.