By Aijaz Hussain Associated Press
SRINAGAR, India — Government troops fired live ammunition and tear gas into crowds of anti-India protesters today, killing seven, police said as tens of thousands of people demonstrated across Indian-controlled Kashmir.
More than 60 protesters and almost 70 government forces were injured on one of the worst days in nearly two months of violent clashes between troops and residents who strongly oppose India’s rule over the predominantly Muslim region.
The top elected official in the predominantly Muslim region, Omar Abdullah, met with Prime Minister Manmohan Singh in New Delhi on Monday to discuss defusing the crisis that has caused 40 deaths over seven weeks.
“The need is to end the cycle of violence. Some semblance of normalcy has to be a precursor for any political initiative,” Abdullah told reporters.
The recent unrest in the Himalayan region — divided between India and Pakistan and claimed by both — is reminiscent of the late 1980s, when protests against New Delhi’s rule sparked an armed conflict that has since claimed 68,000 lives, mostly civilians.
Kashmiri Muslims have held massive street protests, attacked security camps with rocks and burned police stations. Government forces have responded by using live ammunition and tear gas to break up the protests.
Clashes erupted again today in dozens of places across the region, as protesters defied a round-the-clock curfew.
At least two people were killed and another three wounded when government forces fired to disperse protesters blocking a highway in Sangam, a village south of Srinagar, said a police officer on condition of anonymity as he was not authorized to talk to reporters.
Government forces also fired on thousands of people holding street protests in the southern town of Kakpora, killing one and wounding five, the officer said.
As the news of the killing reached nearby villages, thousands more took to streets and burned a police station and scores of vehicles parked there, the officer said.
In the northern village of Kralpora, protesters set a security bunker on fire and ransacked a counterinsurgency police force camp, the officer said. Troops opened fire, killing one protester and wounding seven others, three critically, he said.
In another police shooting, one person was killed and another wounded in the southern village of Chawalgam, the officer said.
In the southern town of Kulgam, another protester was killed when government forces opened fire and used tear gas to control hundreds of marchers. At least 12 people were injured, four of them critically with bullet wounds, the police officer said.
One young boy was killed in a clash between the protesters and paramilitary forces in Srinagar, the officer said.
Local residents claimed that the boy was beaten to death by security forces. Police said they were investigating the cause of the death.
Another 20 people were injured in the southern town of Rajpora when police opened fire and used tear gas to quell the protesters who burned a police station, the officer said.
Protesters also burned a government building and a local intelligence office in Budgam, a town to the west of Srinagar, the region’s main city. Four protesters were injured there, the officer said.
The other injuries occurred in clashes elsewhere in the region, the officer said.
A state police statement said 39 police officers and 28 paramilitary soldiers also were injured in the daylong clashes with protesters.
In Srinagar, troops announced over public address systems mounted on their vehicles that stern action would be taken against those violating the curfew.
However, hundreds of protesters came out on the streets in several neighborhoods, chanting “Go India! Go back” and “We want freedom.” Troops fired warning shots and tear gas to disperse the protesters, the police officer said.
Abdullah, in New Delhi, described the situation in the Kashmir valley as worrisome and said that “some anti-social elements are hellbent to foment trouble, mayhem and bloodshed in the valley to satiate their political designs.”
On Sunday, he appealed to people of all shades of opinion, the media and religious heads to join the government in stopping the bloodshed, adding that he and his government cannot do it alone.
Last week, local authorities asked two retired judges to investigate the deaths of protesters, but the move has failed to calm the anger.
India and Pakistan have fought two wars over Kashmir since 1947.
Separatist politicians and militants reject Indian sovereignty over Kashmir and want to carve out a separate homeland or merge with predominantly Muslim Pakistan.