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Fresh protests in Kashmir over women's deaths

SRINAGAR, India (Reuters) - At least 35 people were injured after police and demonstrators clashed in Kashmir for the fifth day on Wednesday in protests over the rape and murder of two Muslim women, hospitals and witnesses said.

Police detain an activist of Jammu Kashmir Democratic Liberation Party, a Kashmiri separatist party, during a protest in Srinagar June 3, 2009. REUTERS/Danish Ismail

Police fired tear gas shells and used batons to disperse angry residents who burnt the effigy of the chief minister of Jammu and Kashmir, Omar Abdullah. Protesters also burnt tyres and threw stones at police, police said.

Shops, businesses and schools were shut across the Muslim-majority Kashmir valley in response to a strike call by separatists to protest the deaths.

Near daily street protests since last year are giving new life to a separatist movement in the disputed Himalayan region.

Residents said the two women, aged 17 and 22, were abducted, raped and killed by security forces on Friday in Shopian town, 60 km (37 miles) south of Srinagar, Kashmir’s summer capital.

Indian authorities denied the killings and say the women drowned in a stream. Abdullah earlier this week ordered a judicial inquiry into the deaths, which separatists rejected.

A Pakistan-based alliance of Kashmiri militant groups, United Jehad Council (UJC), condemned the deaths.

“Security forces are using rape as a war weapon to muzzle the voice of Kashmiris and the Shopian incident is one more attempt to intimidate us,” Syed Salahuddin, UJC chief, said in a statement.

In Srinagar, police and soldiers armed with assault rifles blocked off lanes and sealed off residential areas with razor wire and iron barricades to thwart more protests, witnesses said.

Indian security forces fighting separatist militants in Jammu and Kashmir, India’s only Muslim-majority state, have been accused in the past of human rights violations, including rape and extrajudicial killings.

Authorities deny any systematic violations and say all reports are investigated and the guilty punished.

Officials say more than 47,000 people have been killed since simmering discontent against Indian rule turned into a full-blown rebellion in 1989. Separatists put the toll at 100,000.