SRINAGAR, India (Reuters) - Indian authorities deployed thousands more federal police across Kashmir to enforce a curfew on Tuesday after one of the worst single days of violence in two decades of separatist protests.
Eighteen people were killed, nearly all of them in police firing, during anti-India and Koran demonstrations in the disputed region, increasing the pressure on the government to tackle the protests that have simmered through the summer.
Heavily-armed police patrolled the streets of summer capital Srinagar on Tuesday, and loudspeakers mounted on police vehicles asked residents to stay indoors in a bid to head off more protests.
In the northern town of Baramulla stone-throwing protesters battled police early on Tuesday, according to police. But otherwise most of the Muslim-majority Kashmir valley was quiet.
All flights to Srinagar, the summer capital of Jammu and Kashmir state, were canceled due to security fears.
The latest deaths are a huge challenge for the federal government, which has been criticized for failing to treat the protests seriously, underscoring a policy limbo in New Delhi that may spill over into tension with Pakistan, which claims Kashmir.
On Monday, thousands of people in the Kashmir valley defied a curfew to set fire to a Christian missionary school and government and police buildings to denounce reports that copies of the Koran had been damaged in the United States.
Police shot dead at least 17 protesters and one policeman was also killed by stone-throwing protesters. At least 113 police and 75 civilians were injured.
“This violence was in the backdrop of a telecast by a foreign (news) channel about the desecration of holy Koran,” Kuldeep Khuda, Kashmir’s police chief, told reporters on Monday evening.
Kashmir has witnessed massive demonstrations against Indian rule in the last three months and police have killed at least 87 protesters. Demonstrations on other issues — such as the Koran — can often balloon into wider anti-government sentiment.
A new generation of young Kashmiris, who have grown up with house raids, police killings and army checkpoints, feel increasingly angry at Indian rule and champion street protests rather than the violent militancy that characterized the 1990s.
In Kashmir separatists and government have appealed for calm.
“We can understand anger of the people against this shameful act, but please don’t take law into your own hands,” Ali Mohammad Sagar, Kashmir’s agriculture minister, said.
While U.S. pastor Terry Jones dropped his plans to burn Korans, there were at least two incidents of damage to Korans in Lower Manhattan in New York Saturday. Two evangelical preachers not affiliated with any mainstream church burned two copies of the Koran in Tennessee.
It was unclear which incidents the Kashmiri demonstrators were denouncing. Iranian TV reports were aired in Kashmir on Sunday about alleged desecrations of the Koran - a grave insult to Muslims who believe the Koran to be the literal word of God.
Editing by Alistair Scrutton and Sanjeev Miglani