India PM calls emergency meeting as Kashmir death toll rises


SRINAGAR, India (AP) — India’s prime minister called an emergency meeting Tuesday over escalating anti-India protests in Kashmir, where at least 29 people have died in clashes and hospitals are struggling with hundreds of injured.

The protests erupted over the weekend after Indian troops killed the popular, young leader of the largest rebel group in the Indian-administered region beset by an insurgency since the 1990s.

Defying curfews and paramilitary troops and riot police on patrol, crowds of youths threw stones at law enforcement officers and rallied in the main city of Srinagar and dozens of other places around the region. Separatist politicians, most of them under house arrest, extended a call for a general strike through Wednesday.

A young man was killed Tuesday after government forces opened gunfire on protesters who attacked a police station in northern Kupwara area and burned a police vehicle trapping some police, police said. At least two other civilians were reported injured. Since the weekend, 28 civilians, mostly teens and young men, and one policeman have been killed in the clashes.

Doctors and government officials said they were struggling with a medical emergency after hundreds of civilians were admitted to hospitals with bullet and pellet wounds. At least 100 troops have been injured.

Amid reported scuffles between law enforcement and hospital staff, many injured protesters said they were beaten up by police and paramilitary soldiers while on the way to hospitals. Authorities appealed for calm and said they would investigate the complaints.

Prime Minister Narendra Modi, having just returned from a four-nation tour in Africa, called a high-level government meeting to discuss how to calm the region and restore peace. Indian authorities had said Monday they sent at least 2,000 more law enforcement troops to the mountainous region, where hundreds of thousands already are deployed permanently.

U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon also expressed concern about the violence. A statement said Ban “calls on all parties to exercise maximum restraint to avoid further violence and hopes that all concerns would be addressed through peaceful means”.

Indian officials lifted a suspension on an annual Hindu pilgrimage to a mountain cave that draws about half a million people each year, and asked that law enforcement ensure the security of the pilgrimage. Kashmir is about 70 percent Muslim.

Across the region, shops were shuttered, businesses closed and cellphone and mobile Internet services were suspended. Thousands thronged Tral town, despite restrictions, to participate in the memorial service for rebel leader Burhan Wani. They shouted pro-freedom and anti-India slogans, and banners like “Burhan the pride of nation” were displayed in the town.

The conflict dates to 1947, when India and Pakistan gained independence from Britain but disagreed on which country would get Kashmir. They have fought two of their three subsequent wars over Kashmir, while each administers a part of it.

On the Indian side, many of the 12 million residents resent the Indian troop presence and back rebel demands for independence or a merger with neighboring Pakistan. Since the 1990s, more than 68,000 people have been killed in Kashmir’s uprising against Indian rule and the subsequent Indian military crackdown.

Wani, who was in his early 20s, was killed by Indian forces in a gunbattle Friday night. He had become the iconic face of Kashmir’s militancy, using social media to rally supporters and reach out to other youths like him who had grown up while hundreds of thousands of Indian armed forces have been deployed across the region.

On Monday, Pakistani Foreign Secretary Aizaz Ahmad Chaudhry expressed concern over the killings of Wani and civilian protesters, telling the Indian high commissioner that the use of force against peaceful protesters was a human rights violation and that the killings should be investigated, according to a statement.

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