SRINAGAR, India – Indian troops killed three suspected rebels during a gunbattle Saturday in the main city in Indian-controlled Kashmir, while police blamed insurgents for killing three other men during a day of violence and protests in the disputed region.
Counterinsurgency police and paramilitary soldiers staged a morning raid on a cluster of homes in a densely populated neighborhood of Srinagar after getting a tip that militants were hiding there, police said. Troops asked the trapped militants to surrender but they instead started shooting and sparked a gunbattle, police said.
As the militants and government troops exchanged gunfire, anti-India protests and clashes erupted in several places. Hundreds of demonstrators tried to reach the site of the standoff and threw rocks at troops in a bid to help the rebels escape.
Police and paramilitary soldiers fired shotgun pellets and tear gas to stop the protesters, and at least one protester was run over and killed by a military vehicle. As the violence spiraled, shops in the city shuttered and authorities switched off internet services to make organizing protests more difficult.
Nuclear-armed India and Pakistan each administer part of Kashmir, but both claim it in its entirety. Rebels have been fighting Indian rule since 1989, demanding Indian-controlled Kashmir be made part of Pakistan or become an independent country.
Most Kashmiris support the rebels’ cause while also participating in civilian street protests against Indian control. In recent years, mainly young Kashmiris have displayed open solidarity with rebels and sought to protect them by engaging troops in street clashes during military operations. Last year, at least 29 civilians were killed and hundreds were wounded during such clashes.
During Saturday’s fierce confrontation, demonstrators chanted pro-rebel slogans such as “Go India, go back” and “We want freedom.” Police said they were investigating the death of the man killed in what they called a “road accident.”
Top separatist leader Mirwaiz Umar Farooq called the young man’s death a murder and he and others called for a general strike on Sunday in protest of the day’s killings.
“How a murder was committed by the forces today and then brazenly denied! Is there no sense of humanity left in India?” Farooq wrote on Twitter, as he also uploaded a video which shows an armored vehicle knocking down a youth.
Injuries were reported to at least two protesters, three journalists, three soldiers and a police officer.
S.P. Vaid, police director-general, told reporters that Saturday’s operation that killed the three militants was a “clean” one.
Meanwhile, gunmen abducted two men from their homes in northern Hajin town late Friday. Their bodies, riddled with bullets, were recovered early Saturday.
Gunmen also entered a civilian home in Sopore area and sprayed bullets at the residents, police said, leading to death of a young man. His wife was critically wounded.
Police accused militants for carrying out these killings, though no rebel group has claimed responsibility.
Kashmiris make no secret of their fury at killings by government forces, which regularly trigger bloody protests and demands for freedom from Indian rule. But the reactions are far more complicated, tangled in fear and loyalty, when residents accused of being informers are targeted.
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