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Official: Kashmir phone connections to be restored this weekend

State's top bureaucrat says connections will start being restored on Friday night

Security personnel guard a deserted road in Srinagar, the main city in Kashmir, as India celebrated its 73rd Independence Day on August 15, 2019. AFP
Security personnel guard a deserted road in Srinagar, the main city in Kashmir, as India celebrated its 73rd Independence Day on August 15, 2019. AFP

Telephone connections in India's Kashmir region will start being restored from Friday night, including in the main city of Srinagar, the top state government official said.

"You will find a lot of Srinagar functioning tomorrow morning," Jammu and Kashmir Chief Secretary B V R Subrahmanyam said in response to a question on restoring of landline telephones.

"Exchange by exchange they will be switching it on," he was quoted as saying by Reuters. "Over the weekend, you'll have most of these lines functional."

His comments came hours after the Indian government told the country's supreme court that restrictions on movement and communications in Kashmir would be lifted in the next few days.

Telephone and internet links were cut and public assembly has been banned in Jammu and Kashmir state since August 4, a day before the government revoked the autonomy granted to the Muslim-majority territory under the constitution and moved to divide it into two union territories.

A police official in Kashmir said on Friday that restrictions on movement had been in eased in certain areas but phones and the internet remained cut off.

Restrictions in Jammu, the more peaceful Hindu-majority area, have already been lifted, and in the Kashmir Valley, the main hotbed of resistance to Indian rule, there has now been some easing too, Munir Khan told Agence France-Presse.

"You need to understand that restrictions and relaxations are area-wise. You can't generalise them," he said.

The state administration has directed government employees to report at work from Friday through a radio announcement, the Press Trust of India news agency reported.

Schools, shops and other businesses premises remained shut.

Mr Khan said the Jama Masjid, the main mosque in the region, would remain shut for Friday prayers for a second week in row. Restrictions on movement were eased last Friday to allow worshippers to attend prayers at their local mosques.

Indian channel NDTV, citing unnamed sources, said schools were likely to open on Monday. Hundreds of political leaders and activists remain under detention, some of them in prisons outside Jammu and Kashmir.

The Indian government's lockdown of the Kashmir Valley, home to nearly seven million people, has drawn widespread criticism and on Friday the Supreme Court heard a petition challenging the move from a newspaper editor seeking to restore communication links so journalists can work.

Government lawyer Tushar Mehta told the court security forces were reviewing the situation and planned to lift the curbs over the "next few days".

A Supreme Court bench headed by Chief Justice Ranjan Gogoi adjourned the petition challenging the information blackout. Another plea questioning the government’s move to scrap the constitutional provision, as it was taken without the consent of the state’s legislature, was also postponed on grounds of being badly drafted. Both will be taken up at a later date, the court said without giving any details.

Security was tightened further in Kashmir as India celebrated its independence day on Thursday. Arch rival Pakistan, which claims the territory as its own, marked its independence day on the previous day, vowing to stand by the Kashmiri people.

Prime Minister Narendra Modi's government has said the revocation of Kashmir's special status was necessary to ensure its full integration into India and speed up development.

The United Nations Security Council was scheduled to hold a closed-door meeting on the issue on Friday after China backed Pakistan’s call for the international body to discuss India’s decision. The last time the full Security Council met to discuss the Himalayan region was in 1965.

Kashmir has been divided between India and Pakistan since independence from Britain in 1947. India's move has raised tensions along the heavily militarised de facto border in the region, with Pakistan reporting three soldiers killed in Indian shelling on Thursday, while two others were killed in a separate incident.

The Pakistani military also said its return fire killed five Indian soldiers, but an Indian army spokesman said this was "fictitious".

Pakistan reported the death of another soldier on Friday.

Updated: August 16, 2019 03:54 PM

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