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Thousands protest in Kashmir over villager death

Women shout "we want freedom" during a protest after the death of Mushtaq Ahmad, a Kashmiri Muslim villager, in Shadi Marg, 55 km south of Srinagar January 24, 2010. Thousands of people shouting "we want freedom" took to the streets in Kashmir on Sunday, accusing the Indian army of killing a villager. REUTERS/Fayaz Kabli

SRINAGAR (Reuters) - Thousands of people shouting “we want freedom” took to the streets in Kashmir on Sunday, accusing the Indian army of killing a villager, days after another was killed in a police firing.

The protest comes at a sensitive time in Muslim-majority Kashmir, which is claimed in full both by India and Pakistan.

Tensions between the two rivals, already at a higher pitch after the 2008 Mumbai attacks, have risen in recent weeks after a string of border skirmishes and a spike in separatist violence in Indian Kashmir by Pakistan-based militant groups.

“Allah-hu-Akbar (God is great), down with Indian forces,” the protesters shouted on Sunday, as they marched with the body of 35-year-old Mushtaq Ahmad in the Sahdi Marg area of south Kashmir.

Villagers accused soldiers of gunning down Ahmad near his home on Saturday night. Police said he died in the crossfire between separatist militants and Indian troops.

In a separate incident on Friday evening, a civilian was killed and five wounded when police opened fire on hundreds protesting the setting up of a police camp near a Muslim shrine in the north of Indian Kashmir.

Near daily street protests in the last two years are giving new life to the separatist movement in the disputed Himalayan region, analysts say.

Authorities in the past have denied systematic human rights violations in Kashmir and say they probe all such reports and punish the guilty.

Reporting by Sheikh Mushtaq; Editing by Matthias Williams and Sanjeev Miglani