By Associated Press
|Photo caption: An Indian paramilitary trooper stands guard on a street during a curfew in Srinagar on July 11, 2016. (Photo / Tauseef Mustafa, AFP)|
SRINAGAR – Indian authorities were struggling Monday to contain protests by Kashmiris angry after 20 people were killed in weekend demonstrations, as youths defied a curfew to rally in the streets against the killing a top anti-India rebel leader.
Paramilitary troops and police in riot gear patrolled villages and towns in the Himalayan region. Most shops were shuttered, businesses were closed and cellphone services were suspended. But by noon Monday, crowds were ignoring the clampdown to gather in parts of the main city of Srinagar and other towns.
The region erupted in protests on Saturday, a day after Indian troops killed Burhan Wani, the young leader of Kashmir’s largest rebel group, Hizbul Mujahideen, which has been fighting since the 1990s against Indian rule. Wani, in his early 20s, had become the iconic face of Kashmir’s militancy, using social media to rally supporters and reach out to other youths like him who had grown up amid hundreds of thousands of Indian armed forces deployed across the region.
Police Inspector-General Syed Javaid Mujtaba Gillani described Wani’s killing as the “biggest success against militants” in recent years.
Photo caption: Indian paramilitary soldiers patrol deserted street during curfew in Srinagar, Indian controlled Kashmir on July 11, 2016. (Photo / Dar Yasin, AP)
|Photo caption: A Kashmiri man walks past closed shops painted with graffiti during a curfew in central Srinagar, Indian controlled Kashmir on July 11, 2016. (Photo / Dar Yasin, AP)|
As news of his death spread, crowds of angry youths gathered to throw rocks at Indian police and paramilitary soldiers and shout “Go India, go back!” Police said that some police and paramilitary posts were attacked, and that some homes of pro-India politicians were burned.
At least 19 civilians and one policeman were killed in clashes Saturday and Sunday, as law enforcement officers used live ammunition, pellet guns and tear gas to try to break up the protests.
Most of those killed were young men under the age of 26 from southern Kashmir, police said. In addition, more than 150 civilians and 90 government troops have been injured. At least 10 of the injured civilians were in serious condition.
Anti-India sentiment is strong throughout the region of 12 million people, about 70 percent of whom are Muslim. Many resent the deployment of hundreds of thousands of Indian troops, and openly voice support for rebels who have been fighting since the 1990s to demand independence or a merger with neighboring Pakistan.
Photo caption: A Sadhu, or a Hindu holy man, walks past a closed shop painted with graffiti during a curfew in central Srinagar, Indian controlled Kashmir on July 11, 2016. (Photo / Dar Yasin, AP)
|Photo caption: A stray dog sits on a road as a Kashmiri cyclist rides past during a curfew in central Srinagar, Indian controlled Kashmir on July 11, 2016. (Photo / Dar Yasin, AP)|
Both India and Pakistan claim all of Kashmir as their own, while each administers a part of the mountainous region. The two sides are divided by a heavily militarized Line of Control. Two of the three wars between the nuclear-armed rivals were fought over Kashmir, and India continues to accuse Pakistan of arming and training anti-India rebels — a charge Pakistan denies.
More than 68,000 people have been killed in the uprising and the subsequent Indian military crackdown.
Amid the protests, Indian officials indefinitely suspended an annual Hindu pilgrimage to a mountain cave that draws about half a million people each year. Authorities also postponed school and college examinations and suspended rail services.