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Nine killed in anti-India protests in Kashmir

SRINAGAR, India (Reuters) - At least nine people died in Indian Kashmir on Sunday in clashes between pro-independence protesters and police, officials and witnesses said.

It was the biggest death toll in a single day in the latest wave of protests in Kashmir which have strained relations between India and Pakistan.

Four people, including a girl, died from bullet injuries when police opened fire to quell a violent protest, while five others died in a blast after protesters set fire to a police station stored with explosives.

At least 35 people were injured in the blast in the Pampore area on the outskirts of Kashmir’s summer capital Srinagar, where all the deaths happened during Sunday’s clashes.

“So far four people have died of bullet wounds and five have died when an ammunition dump went off after an angry mob torched a police camp,” a senior police officer, who did not want to be named, told Reuters. Another top police official also confirmed the deaths.

At least 27 people, mostly of them protesters throwing stones, have been killed by security forces over the past six weeks during the biggest demonstrations against Indian rule in two years.

The latest deaths brought thousands of people out into the streets in Pampore and other neighboring areas shouting: “Go India go!, We want freedom!,” as they set fire to government buildings and police vehicles.

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Tens of thousands of police and paramilitary soldiers in riot gear patrolled deserted streets across Kashmir and warned residents to stay indoors, witnesses said.

A separatist strike and security lock-down has dragged on for nearly a month-and-a-half in Kashmir, where thousands have been killed since an insurgency broke out in 1989.

Authorities have pleaded for calm.

“Chief Minister Omar Abdullah appealed to all sections of the society to extend their wholehearted cooperation in restoration of peace and normalcy in the valley,” a government statement said.

Unrest in Kashmir will complicate efforts to improve relations between New Delhi and Islamabad, as the two countries try to revive peace talks halted after the 2008 attack on Mumbai by Pakistan-based militants.

The nuclear-armed rivals have fought two of their three full-scale wars over Kashmir.

Editing by Bappa Majumdar and Myra MacDonald