A group of European Parliament members arrived in India-administered Kashmir on Tuesday, the first foreign delegation to travel to the disputed region since India stripped it of its semi-autonomous status and imposed a harsh crackdown in early August.
The group, drawn from 11 countries, will assess the situation in Kashmir, Indian officials said Monday after the Parliament members met Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi.
The group is expected to meet government and military officials in Kashmir, as well as traders and hoteliers at a luxury hotel there. India's military will host a lunch for the delegation at army headquarters in Srinagar, the region's main city.
The delegation is the first foreign group to visit Kashmir since India's surprise decision in August to strip the majority-Muslim region of constitutional rights to self-government and land ownership.
The decision was accompanied by a harsh crackdown, with New Delhi sending tens of thousands of additional troops to the already heavily militarized region, imposing a sweeping curfew, arresting thousands and cutting virtually all communications.
Authorities have since eased some restrictions, lifting roadblocks and restoring landlines and some cellphone services. They have encouraged students to return to school and businesses to reopen, but Kashmiris have largely stayed home, in defiance or fear amid threats of violence.
As the crackdown continues, Kashmiris have quietly refused to resume their normal lives, confounding India at their own economic expense.
The region witnessed a complete shutdown on Tuesday. Markets did not open in the morning and there was little traffic on the roads.
Protesters clashed with government forces in several parts of Srinagar, chanting slogans like ``Go India, go back'' and ``We want freedom'' and blocking roads by burning tires and wooden logs.
Protesters also threw stones at the government forces, who fired tear gas shells and shotgun pellets.
Earlier, India denied access to U.N. special rapporteurs, U.S. congressmen, foreign journalists and some of its own members of Parliament to the region.
Many Indian opposition leaders who earlier tried to visit the region were not allowed to do so or were sent back from the Srinagar airport by the authorities.
The move to give rare access to European Parliament members has been criticized by opposition parties.
Rahul Gandhi of the Congress party tweeted late Monday: ``MPs from Europe are welcome to go on a guided tour of Jammu & (hash)Kashmir while Indian MPs are banned & denied entry. There is something very wrong with that.''