Fighting in Kashmir's main city leaves 3 combatants dead

17.10.2018

Anti-India protests and clashes erupted in the main city of disputed Kashmir on Wednesday shortly after a gun battle between militants and government forces killed at least two suspected rebels and a counterinsurgency police official.

The gun battle began early on Wednesday after troops cordoned off a neighbourhood in Srinagar on a tip that some rebels were present in a civilian home, police said. The exchange of gunfire lasted for about half an hour, police said, leaving two militants and a police official dead.

At least three soldiers were also injured in the fighting. No further information was immediately available.

Residents said they also heard loud explosions during the fighting and accused the troops of blasting at least two houses with explosives during the fighting.

As the news of the fighting spread, anti-India protests and clashes erupted in several places in downtown Srinagar. Demonstrators tried to reach the site of the standoff and threw stones at police and paramilitary soldiers in solidarity with rebels. Government forces fired tear gas and shotgun pellets to stop the protesters. There were no reports of injuries.

Authorities limited communications, including internet on mobile phones, as is routine during such fighting to make organising anti-India protests difficult. They also ordered schools shut in anticipation of student protests. At least a dozen journalists covering the fighting were beaten by counter-insurgency policemen well after the fighting ended, journalists said.

Some journalists were also injured as policemen hit them with batons and gun butts, said Asif Qureshi, a senior TV journalist. "Irony is that they beat us in presence of a senior police officer," Qureshi said. "They pointed guns at us and threatened to fire at us. Later they resorted to aerial firing so close that some of the empty cartridges hit me."

S.P. Pani, a senior police officer, said authorities will investigate the incident.

Clashes between government troops and residents had occurred during the day Tuesday during the last phase of local council elections that had low turnout in Muslim-dominated areas. Separatists and armed rebel groups had called for a boycott, viewing the polls as an illegitimate exercise under military occupation.

India and Pakistan each administer part of Kashmir, but both claim it in its entirety.

Most Kashmiris support rebel demands that the territory be united either under Pakistani rule or as an independent country, while also participating in civilian street protests against Indian control. In recent years, mainly young Kashmiris have displayed open solidarity with the rebels and sought to protect them by engaging troops in street clashes during military operations.

Rebels have been fighting Indian control since 1989. India accuses Pakistan of arming and training the rebels, a charge Pakistan denies.

Nearly 70,000 people have been killed in the uprising and the ensuing Indian military crackdown.    (AP)

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