SRINAGAR, INDIA // Government forces fired tear gas and swung batons to disperse stone-throwing protesters demonstrating against Indian rule in Kashmir, officials said. Today's protest comes just one day after two protesters died in clashes with authorities. Hundreds of protesters chanted, "We want freedom" and "Indian forces leave Kashmir" as they flooded into central Srinagar, the biggest city in Indian-ruled Kashmir.
Shops and businesses remained closed and traffic was sparse as security forces erected additional checkpoints. Police and paramilitary soldiers fired tear gas and wielded batons against the protesters, who hurled rocks at them, said B Srinivas, a senior police official. He said at least one person was injured. Residents and shopkeepers in the area said soldiers entered their buildings and smashed windowpanes and furniture and beat them with batons.
"I was beaten like a dog and they would just not listen to me," said Maqbool Ahmed, a local resident. Prabhakar Tripathi, a spokesman for the paramilitary Central Reserve Police Force, said authorities would investigate the allegations. Yesterday, tens of thousands of Muslims participated in pro-independence rallies across Indian Kashmir, leading to scattered clashes with government forces that left at least two protesters dead and dozens injured.
Separatist leaders have warned Indian authorities that the situation could spiral out of control if they "use force to break peaceful protests." More than two months of angry protests, some of the biggest anti-India demonstrations in two decades, have left at least 43 people dead in Indian-controlled Kashmir, most of them killed when soldiers opened fire on Muslim protesters. Anti-India sentiment runs deep in Kashmir, India's only Muslim majority state, where most people favour independence from mainly Hindu India, or a merger with Muslim Pakistan.
Kashmir has been divided between Hindu-majority India and predominantly Muslim Pakistan since 1947 when the two countries fought their first war over the region in the aftermath of Britain's partition of the subcontinent. Both countries continue to claim all of Kashmir. Separatist movements in Indian-controlled Kashmir remained peaceful until 1989, when Islamic insurgents took up arms seeking to win independence for the territory or its merger with Pakistan.
The fighting has killed an estimated 68,000 people. Until the recent unrest, violence had ebbed considerably as India and Pakistan began a peace process in 2004. But the long-time rivals have yet to achieve a breakthrough in their efforts to settle the Kashmir dispute. *AP