GAUHATI: At least 14 people were killed and 16 others injured yesterday after rebels opened fire in a crowded market in Assam state in India's remote northeast, officials said. Six rebels arrived in a motorized rickshaw and fired automatic weapons and lobbed grenades in the crowded market in Balajan, an area just outside the town of Kokrajhar in western Assam, said top local police official LR Bishnoi.
He said that one gunman was killed by security forces and troops were pursuing five others who fled. Several homes and shops were badly damaged in the attack. Police blamed a faction of the National Democratic Front of Bodoland for the attack. The group has been fighting for an independent homeland for the region's Bodo tribespeople for decades. The Bodos are an indigenous tribe in Assam, making up 10 percent of the state's 33 million people.
Yesterday's attack was the worst in the recent past, but the group was blamed for the shooting deaths of more than 60 Muslim settlers and Adivasi tribespeople in Assam in separate attacks in 2014. The rebels have been targeting communities they consider outsiders, including Adivasis, whose ancestors migrated to Assam more than 100 years ago to work on tea plantations - as well as Muslims, accusing them and the federal government of exploiting the region's wealth while neglecting the locals.
Dozens of rebel groups have been fighting the government and sometimes each other for years in seven states in northeast India. They demand greater regional autonomy or independent homelands for the indigenous groups they represent. At least 10,000 people, most of them civilians, have been killed in Assam state alone in the last three decades.
Clashes in Kashmir
In another development, authorities in Indian-controlled Kashmir extended a curfew to most parts of the disputed Himalayan region yesterday in an attempt to prevent an anti-India protest march to a prominent shrine, but clashes erupted as thousands defied the restrictions. The mostly Muslim region, where resistance to rule by predominantly Hindu India is strong, has been under a rolling curfew and strikes for nearly a month after the killing of a popular rebel commander sparked massive anti-India demonstrations. At least 52 civilians and a policeman have been killed and thousands injured.
Separatists called Kashmiris to march to Hazratbal shrine in the city of Srinagar and stage protests after Friday prayers there. Police and paramilitary soldiers patrolled streets and laid razor wire and steel barricades to cut off neighborhoods in the city. Shops, businesses and schools remained closed for the 28th consecutive day. Thousands of Kashmiris defied the security lockdown and demonstrated at dozens of places in the region. They chanted slogans such as "Go India, go back" and "We want freedom."
Violence erupted in at least two dozen places after police and paramilitary soldiers intercepted the protesters and fired tear gas and shotgun pellets, police and witnesses said. At least 35 civilians and 12 policemen were reported injured. Troops continued firing shotguns to disperse angry crowds despite warnings from India's home ministry to minimize their use, and requests for a ban from local and international rights groups. The pellets have killed at least one man and left hundreds of civilians with serious eye injuries. Dozens of people have lost their vision because of pellet injuries.- Agencies