Monday, August 2, 2010

Indian police fire on protest in Kashmir, two dead

At least two demonstrators died today when Indian police opened fire on thousands of pro-independence protesters in the Muslim-majority Himalayan region of Kashmir.

At least 25 people, mostly of them protesters throwing stones, have been killed by security forces over the past six weeks during the biggest demonstrations against Indian rule in two years.

Locals say the protests are spontaneous but India has blamed separatists and Lashkar-e-Taiba, a militant group based in neighbouring Pakistan, for fomenting the latest violence.

Two people were killed and 25 wounded on Saturday after protesters defied curfew and torched a police camp and a railway station.

"The fresh trouble started in Pampore area. Police opened fire after heavy stone pelting by protesters," a senior police official, who did not want to be identified, told Reuters. The area is on the outskirts of Kashmir's summer capital Srinagar.

Tens of thousands of police and paramilitary soldiers in riot gear patrolled deserted streets across Kashmir and warned residents to stay indoors, witnesses said.

Authorities have pleaded for calm.

"Chief minister Omar Abdullah appealed to all sections of the society to extend their wholehearted cooperation in restoration of peace and normalcy in the valley," a government statement said.

Peace in Kashmir is crucial for improving relations between New Delhi and Islamabad, as the two countries are trying to revive peace talks that were halted after India blamed Pakistan-based militants for the 2008 Mumbai attacks.

The nuclear-armed rivals have fought two of their three wars over Kashmir, a region they claim in full but rule in part.

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