Dozens hurt as police battle protesters in Indian Kashmir

AFP , Friday 9 Aug 2013

Protesters came out to protest alleged human rights violations by Indian government forces in turbulent Himalayan region of Kashmir

A Kashmiri Muslim protester engulfed in teargas smoke throws a stone at Indian police officers during a clash between them in Srinagar, India, Friday, Aug. 9, 2013 (Photo: AP)

Security forces in Indian Kashmir fired tear gas and pellet guns at hundreds of rock-throwing protesters Friday who took to the streets after prayers for Eid, police and witnesses said.

Police and paramilitary forces clashed with the protesters in several locations in the region's main city of Srinagar including at a major prayer ground, injuring at least 30 people.

"We had to deal with intense clashes as soon as people finished their Eid prayers. Dozens were injured on both sides," a police officer told AFP on condition of anonymity.

Protesters were chanting "we want freedom" and anti-India slogans as well as "arrest of our leaders is unacceptable", witnesses said.

On the eve of the Muslim Eid al-Fitr festival authorities had put all of the top separatist leaders under house arrest.

Separatist leader Syed Ali Geelani had called for "peaceful protests" immediately after Eid prayers against alleged human rights violations by government forces in the tense Himalayan region.

About a dozen militant groups have been fighting Indian forces since 1989 for independence or merger of the disputed territory with Pakistan.

The fighting has left tens of thousands of people, mostly civilians, dead.

The clashes come one day after the Indian government accused Pakistan's army of involvement in a deadly ambush against its troops in Kashmir, as Pakistan's prime minister tried to ease tensions over the attack.

New Delhi has been under mounting domestic pressure to delay indefinitely proposed peace talks with Pakistan, after five Indian soldiers were killed in the ambush along the Line of Control (LoC) overnight Monday.

Pakistan denied involvement in the attack. A flare-up along the LoC in January, in which two Indian soldiers were killed, brought stop-start peace talks to a halt.

Kashmir is divided between India and Pakistan by a heavily militarised LoC with both countries claiming the territory in full. The two countries have fought two wars over the Muslim-majority region.

Clashes were also reported on Friday in Sopore and Baramulla, two other main towns in northern Indian Kashmir.

In Kishtwar, 150 kilometres (90 miles) southeast of Srinagar, two communities clashed after reports spread of bodyguards of a local pro-India politician allegedly beating up a few protesters who were shouting pro-independence slogans.

"They were joined by others after Eid prayers resulting in clashes among them and with police," Naseer Khora, a local human rights activist, told AFP by telephone.

Police fired live shots into the air to disperse the two sides, Khora said, adding that shops and vehicles were also torched during the clashes.

Later, a large crowd of demonstrators threw rocks at the motorcade of the state's junior home minister, who was unhurt, several unnamed officials said.

"Curfew has been imposed in the town and the army called out to assist in controlling the situation," said a government official, asking not to be identified.

"We are trying our level best to manage the situation," the minister, Sajjad Ahmad Kichloo, told the news portal Kashmir Life. "We are persuading the army to move out and help restore normalcy."

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