Indian troops on alert to halt Kashmir protests

25 February 2009

SRINAGAR: Thousands of Indian police and soldiers locked down Kashmir's main city on Wednesday to prevent separatist protests over the killings of two Muslim men, blamed on the army. In Srinagar, Kashmir's summer capital, troops patrolled deserted streets and erected barricades, cutting off residential enclaves after the weekend killings in north Kashmir sparked fresh protests against Indian rule in the disputed region. Shops and businesses remained closed across the Kashmir valley in protest. Last year, the Muslim-majority region witnessed some of the biggest pro-independence protests since a separatist revolt against Indian rule erupted 20 years ago. Those protests had tapered off and state elections were held peacefully in December. At least 10 people were injured on Wednesday when police and stone-throwing protesters clashed in Srinagar, police said. 'Killing the innocents in cold blood is a shameful act,' Mirwaiz Umar Farooq, chairman of the separatists alliance, the All Parties Hurriyat (Freedom) Conference, said. The state government and the army, which has widespread powers of arrest in Kashmir, have ordered separate investigations into the deaths. More than 47,000 people have been killed in the region since discontent against New Delhi's rule turned into a full-blown rebellion in 1989. Separatists put the toll at 100,000. But overall violence involving Indian troops and separatist guerrillas has declined significantly across Kashmir since India and Pakistan began a slow-moving peace process in 2004. New Delhi put a pause on that dialogue after last November's Mumbai attacks in which 179 people were killed. (Editing by Krittivas Mukherjee and Jerry Norton)