Kashmir streets under army lockdown to end protest

Kashmir streets under army lockdown to end protest
# 08 July 2010 21:11 (UTC +04:00)
Baku-APA. Tens of thousands of soldiers patrolled the streets in Indian-controlled Kashmir on Thursday to enforce a rigid curfew aimed at ending weeks of violent anti-government protests, APA reports quoting news.yahoo.com website.
Shops and schools were closed, streets ringed with barbed wire were deserted, the region’s nearly 60 newspapers were unable to publish and even residents with special curfew passes were barred from going outside.
Despite the curfew, the All Parties Hurriyat Conference, an umbrella organization of separatist groups, issued a statement calling for more protests, saying, "Military measures will in no way be able to break the will of the people."
In Budgam, a town 15 miles (24 kilometers) west of Srinagar, the region’s main city, hundreds of people briefly defied the restrictions, chanting "Go India, go back" and "We want freedom." They sat for nearly an hour in the town’s main square before dispersing peacefully.
In Khirhama village on Srinagar’s outskirts, scores of people shouting anti-India slogans hurled rocks at police after being stopped from marching. Police fired warning shots and tear gas, and four protesters and two officers were injured, police said.
The tension in the Himalayan region — divided between India and Pakistan — was reminiscent of the late 1980s, when protests against Indian rule sparked an armed conflict that eventually killed more than 68,000 people, mostly civilians.
Residents say security forces have killed 15 people in the recent protests. The government’s decision to send the army to quell the protests was intended to prevent them from spiraling out of control and igniting another insurgency.
"The army will be deployed as long as it is necessary, but I sincerely hope it will not be necessary for too long," Indian Home Minister Palaniappan Chidambaram said.
In a show of force, Indian soldiers in armored vehicles and carrying assault rifles and machine guns drove Thursday through neighborhoods in Srinagar.
Col. Vineet Sood, an Indian army spokesman, said the soldiers were giving support to the local forces. "We are ready to move anywhere, anytime," he said.
However, there were risks that using the army — instead of the police and paramilitary troops that usually deal with civil unrest — could further inflame residents, who accuse the military of being a brutal occupying force.
The Indian army is ubiquitous in Kashmir, but its operations are usually aimed at combating insurgents and it has not been used in crowd control since major street protests in 1990.
India and Pakistan have fought two wars over the region. India regularly accuses Pakistan of sending insurgents over the heavily militarized frontier to stir trouble and has blamed the recent protests on Pakistani-based militants bent on destabilizing India, a charge Pakistan denies.
Kashmiri separatists are demanding independence from Hindu-majority India or a merger with Muslim-majority Pakistan.
On Wednesday night, thousands of protesters defied the restrictions and held street protests for several hours. Pro-independence songs rang out overnight from the public address systems of several mosques, as they had in the months before the insurgency broke out two decades ago. Troops did not intervene and no clashes broke out.
With authorities canceling curfew passes given to journalists, none of nearly 60 newspapers published from Srinagar hit the stands Thursday. Many reporters spent the night in their offices.
"Not allowing media persons to move and cover the situation is tantamount to banning the media," the Press Guild of Kashmir said, denouncing "curbs and the use of force against media persons."