Protesters burn flag in protest at U.S. sanctions on Kashmir militant

MUZAFFARABAD, Pakistan (Reuters) - Hundreds of demonstrators in Pakistani-administered Kashmir burned an Indian flag on Tuesday in protest of Washington putting the leader of an anti-India militant group on its list of global terrorists as Pakistan condemned the designation.

Pakistan’s government said the State Department designation of Syed Salahuddin as a Specially Designated Global Terrorist was unjustified.

Salahuddin heads the Hizbul Mujahideen militant group, based in the Pakistan-administered side of Kashmir, the Himalayan region divided between India and Pakistan and claimed in whole by both.

Hizbul Mujahideen is the biggest militant fighting group Indian forces in Kashmir. Unlike Lashkar-e- Taiba and other groups operating from Pakistan soil, the Hizb is a largely indigenous Kashmir group.

The U.S. announcement came on the day Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi visited the White House on Monday for his first talks with President Donald Trump.

In Muzaffarabad, capital of Pakistani Kashmir, hundreds staged a rally to condemn the move and burned an Indian flag on the ground.

“Syed Salahuddin ... is not a terrorist, but a freedom fighter,” read a huge banner.

India, which blames Pakistan for stoking the 28-year-old revolt in Muslim-majority Kashmir, has stepped up efforts to put pressure on Pakistan under Modi.

Pakistan denies giving material help to Kashmiri separatists but reiterated on Tuesday it would continue to provide diplomatic and moral support to the Kashmiri struggle for self-determination.

Indian security forces have been accused by activists and rights groups of killing up to 100 separatist protesters since new mass anti-India demonstrations broke out in September.

Pakistan’s Interior Minister Nisar Ali Khan said the U.S. decision “appears as if they do not attach any importance to the blood of innocent Kashmiris”.

At the talks on Monday, Modi and Trump called on Pakistan to ensure that its territory is not used to launch terrorist attacks on other countries, the White House said.

In its announcement, the State Department said that in September 2016, Salahuddin had threatened to train more Kashmiri suicide bombers and vowed to turn the Kashmir valley “into a graveyard for Indian forces”.

As a consequence of the designation, U.S. individuals are banned from engaging in financial transactions with Salahuddin and all his property in the United States is blocked.

Salahuddin, who is from Badgam town in Indian-administered Kashmir, was an Islamist politician who turned to militancy after he lost an election for the Kashmir legislative assembly in 1987, which he says was “massively rigged” by India.

He first crossed into Pakistan-administered Kashmir in 1990.

A spokesman for Salahuddin did not answer his mobile phone to provide any comment.

Reporting by Kay Johnson; Writing by Sanjeev Miglani; Editing by Alison Williams