SRINAGAR: Protests against Indian rule erupted in dozens of places in divided Kashmir, even as authorities prevented tens of thousands of people from offering Friday prayers in big mosques with a lockdown in place for a seventh straight day. Government forces armed with automatic rifles and in riot gear fanned across villages and towns ordering residents to stay indoors. But after people prayed in smaller, neighborhood mosques, protests occurred and police reported clashes between protesters and police and paramilitary soldiers.
Troops fired tear gas to disperse rock-throwing crowds who chanted pro-freedom and anti-India slogans. In one village army troops opened fire and wounded at least two protesters after hundreds of villagers attacked them with stones, said a police officer who spoke on condition of anonymity as he was not authorized to talk to reporters. The largest protests in recent years erupted last weekend after Indian troops killed the popular, young leader of the largest rebel group fighting against Indian rule.
The clashes have killed at least 32 people, mostly teens and young men, and a policeman. Kashmir is divided between India and Pakistan, and most people in India’s portion resent the Indian troop presence and want independence or a merger with Pakistan. Pakistan denies India’s accusations it arms and trains Kashmiri rebels. Since the 1990s, more than 68,000 people have been killed in Kashmir’s uprising against Indian rule and the subsequent Indian military crackdown.
Yesterday, Pakistan Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif vowed that his country would continue extending political moral and diplomatic support to Kashmiris. He urged his countrymen to observe “black day” on Tuesday to express solidarity with “Kashmiris who are facing atrocities at the hands of Indian forces.” In a statement released by Sharif’s office, the prime minister said a joint meeting of the National Assembly and the Senate will be convened to discuss Kashmir.
Meanwhile, a team of New Delhi eye specialists who went to help expressed concern over the use of pellet guns by Indian security forces. At least 100 people required eye surgery, with doctors saying most will lose partial or complete eyesight. Sudershan Khokhar, an ophthalmologist from the premier New Delhi-based All India Institute of Medical Sciences, said he had not witnessed so many injured at one time in three decades. “During wartime, I think you will get such injuries,” the Indian Express newspaper quoted Khokar as saying. “It (pellet guns) shouldn’t be used here or anywhere.”
Officials said at least 1,500 injured have been treated in hospitals for various injuries. At least 150 police and soldiers have been injured. The protests were ignited by the death of Burhan Wani, who was killed by Indian forces in a gun battle and had been the face of Kashmir’s militancy. Sharif paid tributes to Wani yesterday saying he was a “soldier of independence” and that “Kashmiris will ultimately get their right (of self-determination).”-AP