Authorities relax curfew in Indian Kashmir
(Adds Indian foreign ministry's comment)
By Sheikh Mushtaq
SRINAGAR, India, Aug 28 (Reuters) - Authorities relaxed a four-day curfew in Indian Kashmir on Thursday to allow people to buy essentials as residents ran short of food during big protests against Indian rule.
At least 30 protesters have been killed by government forces over the past three weeks in some of the largest pro-independence demonstrations since a revolt against New Delhi's rule broke out in Kashmir in 1989. More than 600 have been injured.
In Srinagar, the summer capital of Indian Kashmir, people swarmed into grocery shops as authorities relaxed a curfew for more than an hour. The curfew was briefly relaxed at different times in different areas across much of the Kashmir Valley.
The latest deaths occurred on Wednesday, when troops shot two protesters who police said defied a curfew.
The United Nations Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) called on Wednesday for the Indian government to show restraint and investigate the recent killings.
"OHCHR calls on the Indian authorities and in particular security forces to respect the right to freedom of assembly and expression, and comply with international human rights principles in controlling the demonstrators," the OHCHR said in a statement.
India reacted angrily to the OHCHR comments on Kashmir.
"This is uncalled for and irresponsible; India does not need any advice in respect of the protection and promotion of the human rights of its citizens," the foreign ministry said in a statement.
First sparked by a land row over a Hindu shrine, the protests quickly transformed into rallies that galvanised separatist groups after years of relative calm in the region.
The crisis has strained relations between India and Pakistan, which both claim the region in full but rule in parts, damaging a tentative peace process and raising fears Kashmir could again become a hotspot between the two nuclear rivals.
Tens of thousands of people have been killed in Kashmir since the armed revolt against New Delhi's rule broke out.
The conflict over the land also sparked large protests in the Hindu-majority region of Jammu, sparking fears of communal conflict gripping parts of the state of more than 10 million people previously less affected by violence.
Indian troops have been criticised by Kashmiris and human rights groups for using excessive force, with reports that they have attacked journalists and ambulance drivers.
Authorities have blocked four local television news channels from broadcasting since Sunday and stopped local newspapers from publishing news for the past five days.
"They have stopped newspapers, local television and starved us," Mukhtar Ahmad, a carpet trader said. "They can't hold us at gunpoint for long."
Police have also detained four senior separatist leaders since Monday in an effort to defuse protests.
"Already reeling under the impact of an economic blockade the curfew has further accentuated the conditions and a humanitarian disaster is staring at our faces," Sajad Lone, a separatist leader, said in a statement.
The crisis began after the Kashmir government promised to give forest land to a Hindu trust that runs Amarnath, a cave shrine visited by Hindu pilgrims. Many Muslims were enraged.
The government then rescinded its decision, which in turn angered Hindus in Jammu who attacked lorries carrying supplies to the largely Muslim Kashmir Valley and blocked the region's highway, the only surface link with the rest of India.
Challenging the blockade, Kashmiris took to the streets.
In Jammu, scheduled talks between Hindu protest groups and the government were postponed by a day.
Three Muslim militants who slipped across the border from Pakistan into Indian Kashmir were shot dead by security forces after they killed six people in Jammu on Wednesday. (Editing by Bappa Majumdar and Charles Dick)
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