Troops fire on protesters in tense Kashmir, 3 dead

Tue Jul 6, 2010 9:06am EDT

(Updates toll, adds Pakistani reaction in paragraph 7-8)

By Sheikh Mushtaq

SRINAGAR, India, July 6 (Reuters) - Indian police fired at hundreds of stone-throwing protesters in Kashmir on Tuesday, killing three civilians, authorities said, the latest violence in a region at the core of a dispute between India and Pakistan.

The deaths of at least 14 people, mostly protesters, in the last three weeks have triggered the biggest anti-India demonstrations in two years across Muslim-majority Kashmir valley. Many locals blame security forces for the deaths.

"The fresh protests broke out when a body of a teenager was fished out from a rivulet on Tuesday," Mohammad Afzal, a police official said.

Locals said the teenager had jumped into the water in Kashmir's summer capital, Srinagar, and drowned while being chased by security forces during a demonstration on Monday evening.

Indian Home Minister Palaniappan Chidambaram last week accused Pakistan-based militant group, Lashkar-e-Taiba (LeT), of being behind growing anti-India protests, but many locals believe the protests are mostly spontaneous.

The growing troubles could hurt a tentative process that New Delhi and Islamabad have begun to repair relations after the 2008 attacks on Mumbai, which India blames on LeT.

In Islamabad, scores of Pakistani Kashmiris staged a protest against the recent killings.

"I want to assure my brothers in Indian occupied Kashmir that we will continue to support you until we liberate every inch of our motherland from Indian subjugation," Syed Salahuddin, a top commander of Kashmiri militant group, Hizb-ul-Mujahideen told protesters.

Peace in Kashmir is seen as crucial for progress in relations between the two nuclear-armed countries who claim the region in full but rule in parts and have fought two wars over it.

Authorities imposed curfew in Srinagar and closed schools and colleges on Tuesday after separatists appealed to students to hold anti-India protests.

But thousands of people shouting "we want freedom" took to the streets in Srinagar to protest the fresh killings.

In downtown Srinagar, the protesters were led by the region's senior separatist leader, Mirwaiz Umar Farooq.

"Protests and civil disobedience will continue until India withdraws its security forces from all populated areas, and punish those found guilty," Farooq said.

The conflict in Kashmir has killed tens of thousands of people since a revolt against New Delhi broke out in the scenic Himalayan region two decades ago. (Editing by Bappa Majumdar and Jonathan Thatcher)





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