Indian police patrolled the streets of Kashmir today, threatening to shoot anyone defying a rigid curfew imposed on the region a day after troops battled protesters in the streets in violence which killed 19 people.
The region has been wracked by anti-India protests throughout the summer, but the chaos yesterday – exacerbated by reports of a Koran being desecrated in the United States – was the deadliest since large-scale demonstrations began in June.
In an attempt to prevent another round of violence, police and paramilitary soldiers drove through the deserted streets of the main towns of Indian-controlled Kashmir, using loudspeakers to announce that curfew violators would be shot on sight.
But scores of demonstrators took to the streets of Baramulla, north of Kashmir’s main city Srinagar, and hurled rocks at police.
Soldiers retaliated by firing shots in the air and launching tear gas shells, wounding three protesters, said a police officer.
In overnight protests, demonstrators set fire to a police vehicle in Charar-e-Sharief, 30 miles (45km) south-west of Srinagar, police said.
The region has been beset for months by separatist protests which often descend into clashes with government forces. The violence has killed at least 88 people this summer – mostly teenage boys and young men in their 20s.
The anti-India protests turned into rare anti-America protests yesterday as reports of a Koran being desecrated in the United States intensified the anger of demonstrators, with activists chanting “Down with America” and burning an effigy of President Barack Obama.
The protesters burned government buildings and a Christian missionary school and threw rocks at troops, who responded by firing into the crowds.
The death toll from that violence rose to 19 today, including 18 demonstrators and one police officer.
The violence came as Indian officials debated whether to make goodwill gestures to try to ease tensions in the war-wracked region, which is divided between India and Pakistan and fully claimed by both.
Since 1989, a violent, separatist insurgency and the ensuing crackdown by Indian forces have killed an estimated 68,000 people.
Although the armed rebellion has been largely suppressed, the region remains heavily militarised, with checkpoints along main roads, hundreds of thousands of troops stationed in the area and harsh emergency laws still in force, creating further friction with the restive population.