Violent clashes erupt in Kashmir despite extended curfew




SRINAGAR, India (AP) — Authorities in Indian-controlled Kashmir extended a curfew to most parts of the disputed Himalayan region on Friday in an attempt to prevent an anti-India protest march to a prominent shrine, but clashes erupted as thousands defied the restrictions.

The mostly Muslim region, where resistance to rule by predominantly Hindu India is strong, has been under a rolling curfew and strikes for nearly a month after the killing of a popular rebel commander sparked massive anti-India demonstrations. At least 52 civilians and a policeman have been killed and thousands injured.

Separatists called Kashmiris to march to Hazratbal shrine in the city of Srinagar and stage protests after Friday prayers there.

Police and paramilitary soldiers patrolled streets and laid razor wire and steel barricades to cut off neighborhoods in the city. Shops, businesses and schools remained closed for the 28th consecutive day.

Thousands of Kashmiris defied the security lockdown and demonstrated at dozens of places in the region. They chanted slogans such as "Go India, go back" and "We want freedom."

Violence erupted in at least two dozen places after police and paramilitary soldiers intercepted the protesters and fired tear gas and shotgun pellets, police and witnesses said.

At least 35 civilians and 12 policemen were reported injured.

Troops continued firing shotguns to disperse angry crowds despite warnings from India's home ministry to minimize their use, and requests for a ban from local and international rights groups. The pellets have killed at least one man and left hundreds of civilians with serious eye injuries. Dozens of people have lost their vision because of pellet injuries.

Government forces barred people from praying at large mosques across the region for a fourth Friday in a row, but allowed prayers at small neighborhood mosques.

Separatist politicians, demanding an end to Indian rule, have extended the protest strikes until Aug. 12.

The troubled region is experiencing some of the largest protests against Indian rule in recent years since troops killed the rebel commander on July 8.

Tens of thousands of people have defied the curfew and participated in street protests, often leading to clashes between rock-throwing residents and government forces firing live ammunition, shotgun pellets and tear gas.

Kashmir is divided between archrivals India and Pakistan, which have fought two wars over control of the region since British colonialists left the subcontinent in 1947.

India accuses Pakistan of arming and training Kashmiri rebels who have been fighting for independence or merger with Pakistan since 1989. Pakistan denies the charge, saying it only provides moral and political support to Kashmiris.

Most people in the Indian-controlled part resent the presence of hundreds of thousands of Indian troops and support the rebel cause.

More than 68,000 people have been killed in the armed uprising against Indian rule and the subsequent Indian military crackdown.
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