Indian Kashmir troops fire on protesters, 1 dead

24 August 2008
Associated Press

Srinagar: Paramilitary soldiers opened fire on a group of Muslim protesters in Indian Kashmir after they allegedly defied curfew late Sunday and tried to storm into a police camp, an official said. One person was killed and another seriously injured.The protesters had surrounded a Central Reserve Police Force camp in Srinagar, the main city in India's JammuKashmir state, forcing troops to open fire, Prabhakar Tripathi the CRPF spokesman said. He gave no other details or estimates of the size of the crowd.A witness, however, said the soldiers had fired on a man and his son without any provocation. Mohammed Ismail said his neighbors, Ghulam Qadir and his son, were just standing near the entrance to their home when they were fired upon.In Baramullah town, 35 miles (55 kilometers) north of Srinagar, thousands of people also defied an indefinite curfew imposed in Muslimmajority areas of the volatile Himalayan region.Government troops there were forced to use tear gas and fire rubber bullets when the angry mob began to throw stones at them, a local police official said on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to speak to reporters.At least 27 people, including seven paramilitary soldiers were injured in the violence, he said.The curfew comes amid a weekend general strike in the region's main city and the largest protests against Indian rule in more than a decade, intensifying the turmoil that has roiled the region for almost two months.Police drove through neighborhoods in the mainly Muslim Kashmir Valley before dawn Sunday announcing the curfew and warning residents to stay indoors. Thousands of security forces patrolled the deserted streets of Srinagar.Police warned 'stern action will be taken against violators' of the curfew.Botlagauduru Srinivas, a senior police officer, said the army had been called in to assist the police in enforcing law and order.Earlier in the day thousands of people took to the streets of Handwara, a town 65 miles (100 kilometers) north of Srinagar, to defy the curfew. The demonstrators chanted proindependence slogans and alleged that government forces had desecrated the Quran, the Muslim holy book.Srinivas called the allegation 'totally baseless.'Security forces fired tear gas and used batons to stop the protesters, Srinivas said. There were no immediate reports of injuries.In Srinagar, chants of 'We want freedom!' could be heard from public announcement systems at mosques. The announcements also exhorted people to defy the curfew.At least 10 journalists who were outside during the curfew were beaten by paramilitary soldiers and three of them were hospitalized, said Farooq Khan, president of Kashmir Press Photographers Association.The government issued a statement calling the curfew a 'precautionary measure' and saying it had information that separatist leaders could face threats from 'vested interests.' It did not give any other details, but officials usually describe armed Kashmiri militant groups as 'vested interests.'Mirwaiz Omer Farooq, a key separatist leader, dismissed the government statement.'If at all we have threats from any quarter, it's from Indian forces,' he said.Separatists have called for a sitin protest in Srinagar on Monday. Farooq said they would defy the curfew and go ahead with protest plans.An estimated 275,000 people thronged a main square in Srinagar on Friday for a rally called by a coalition of separatist political parties. It was largest in two months of angry rallies that have rocked the Indian portion of Kashmir, pitting the region's Muslim majority against the Hindu minority.The crisis began in June when Muslims demonstrated over a government decision to transfer land to a Hindu shrine that they said was actually a settlement plan meant to alter the religious balance in the region. After the plan was rescinded, Hindus took to the streets of Jammu, a predominantly Hindu city, demanding it be restored.The unrest has left at least 34 people dead, mainly protesters.Kashmir has been divided between India and Pakistan since 1948. Separatist movements in the disputed region were mostly peaceful until 1989, when the movements gave rise to a bloody Islamic insurgency that wants to see India's part of the region merged with Pakistan or given independence.At least 68,000 people have been killed in the fighting.