September 11, 2007 / 10:07 AM / in 10 years

Fifteen hurt in Kashmir protest over "staged" killing

SRINAGAR, India, Sept 11 (Reuters) - At least 15 people were injured in Indian Kashmir on Tuesday after police fired tear gas at thousands of demonstrators who were protesting at the killing of a student in a suspected staged gun battle.

Indian troops, fighting separatist militants in Kashmir, in the past have been accused of murdering innocent civilians in staged gun battles and passing them off as separatist militants to earn rewards and promotions.

Several thousand people joined a procession carrying the body of 20-year-old Mohammad Ramzan Shah in Dangiwachi town north of Srinagar, Kashmir’s summer capital, shouting "punish the killers ... we want freedom" and pelting police with stones.

A police statement said Shah was a militant and was killed along with another rebel, a Pakistani national, in a gun battle in the neighbouring town of Handwara on Monday.

But local villagers and Shah’s family, who refused to bury the body, demanded an investigation and accused troops of staging the clash.

"He was a student and had just finished his exams. We were shocked when we saw his body lying in a police station," Shah’s brother Khurshid Ahmad told reporters.

"They have killed him in a fake encounter."

Earlier this year, authorities in Muslim-majority Kashmir region charged more than a dozen policemen and soldiers with killing at least two people in fake gun battles and claiming the civilians were militants.

The killings triggered widespread protests in Kashmir.

Officials say the level of violence has fallen significantly since India and Pakistan, both of whom claim the region in full but rule it in parts, began peace talks in 2004.

But people are still killed in daily shootouts and occasional bomb attacks by suspected separatist militants.

Police said six militants and a soldier were killed on Monday in two separate firefights in north Kashmir.

Officials say more than 42,000 people have been killed in Kashmir after a revolt against Indian rule broke out in 1989. Human rights groups put the toll at about 60,000.

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