Twelve protesters and a policeman were killed today in Indian Kashmir in the most deadly day of violence since mass demonstrations against Indian rule began three months ago, police said. Recent separatist protests were further fuelled by rage about the desecration of the Quran in Washington on Saturday when a small group of Christians were filmed tearing pages from the holy book, police said. A policeman and five locals were killed during fierce clashes in central Budgam district, while another five died in the western village of Tangmarg where a mob torched a church-run school, police officials said.
Another man died in northern Bandipora district after security forces opened fire at stone-hurling protesters, while another victim was killed in southern Pampore town. A curfew was clamped across Kashmir, a restive and disputed Himalayan territory held partly by India and Pakistan but claimed in full by both. In Tangmarg, where five lives were lost, an angry mob torched the missionary-run Tyndale Biscoe School, which led to clashes with police.
"The protesters defied the curfew and took to the streets to protest the alleged desecration of the Koran," a local policeman said. He said protesters also set fire to government offices. The violence came as the Indian cabinet met to decide whether to partially lift a 20-year-old emergency law in an attempt to defuse tensions and end the escalating cycle of protests. Officials said Prime Minister Manmohan Singh held talks with senior ministers in New Delhi on Monday evening to decide whether to lift the Armed Forces Special Powers Act in four districts of Indian Kashmir.
The act was passed in 1990 soon after an insurgency against New Delhi rule erupted in the Muslim-majority Kashmir valley. It gives Indian army and paramilitary troops sweeping powers to open fire, search houses, detain suspects and confiscate property, as well as protecting soldiers from prosecution. Human rights groups and local politicians have long campaigned against the legislation, which they say encourages abuses by the security forces and adds to a sense of occupation in the highly militarised area.
Hardline Kashmiri separatist Syed Ali Geelani, who has orchestrated a rolling programme of strikes and protests, called for calm today. "We strongly condemn those involved in setting ablaze the missionary school," Mr Geelani said. "I urge the Muslims to protect the members of minority community and their religious places. We should at any cost maintain the age-old communal harmony and brotherhood for which Kashmir is known world over," he said.