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India says some Kashmir restrictions eased

August 16, 2019

India has eased some restrictions on movement in Kashmir but phones and the internet remained cut off for a 12th day on Friday, a police official in the restive territory said.

With the central government fearing protests and unrest, Indian-administered Kashmir has been under lockdown since August 4, a day before New Delhi stripped the region of its autonomy.

Tens of thousands of extra troops have been deployed — joining 500,000 already there — turning parts of the main city of Srinagar into a fortress of roadblocks and barbed wire.

Restrictions in Jammu, the more peaceful Hindu-majority area, have already been lifted, and in the Kashmir Valley, the main hotbed of resistance to Indian rule, there has now been some easing too, senior police officer Munir Khan told AFP.

But he said that Srinigar’s Jama Masjid, the main mosque in the Muslim-majority region with space for thousands of worshippers, also remained shut for Friday prayers.

“You need to understand that restrictions and relaxations are area-wise. You can’t generalise them,” Khan added.

The Press Trust of India quoted an unnamed official as saying that authorities were considering allowing schools to open in the Valley next week.

“We are making arrangements that all government offices start functioning normally from Monday,” the official said.

“Even if the telephone services are to be restored, it will be done in a phased manner,” the official added however.

– Anger –

Despite the crackdown, last Friday residents said some 8,000 people took to the streets and that the military used pellet-firing shotguns.

The Indian government confirmed the clashes only after several days had passed, blaming them on stone-throwing “miscreants” and saying its forces reacted with “restraint”.

There was also a smaller demonstration on Monday and there have been reports of others.

Kashmiri politicians — alongside university professors, business leaders and activists — are among the more than 500 people that have been taken into custody.

Security forces also detained a journalist — identified as Irfan Malik from the newspaper Greater Kashmir — on Wednesday night, the Indian Express daily reported.

– Cross-border shelling –

Kashmir has been divided between India and Pakistan since independence from Britain in 1947.

Tens of thousands of people, most of them civilians, have died in an uprising against Indian rule that has raged since 1989.

The territory has been the spark for two wars and countless clashes between the two nuclear-armed arch-rivals, most recently in February when they conducted tit-for-tat air strikes.

This followed the deaths of 40 Indian troops in a suicide bombing claimed by a militant group based in Pakistan.

Officials in the part of Kashmir ruled by Pakistan said Thursday that three soldiers died in Indian shelling across the Line of Control, the de facto border, and two others were killed in a separate incident.

The Pakistani military also said its return fire killed five Indian soldiers. But an Indian army spokesman told PTI late Thursday this was “fictitious”.

Skirmishes are frequent across the so-called Line of Control (LoC), but the latest deaths came after Pakistan warned it was ready to meet any Indian aggression over Kashmir.

In a rare step, the UN Security Council will discuss the situation behind closed doors later on Friday, diplomats said.

Pakistan observed “Black Day” on Thursday to coincide with India’s Independence Day celebrations, with Prime Minister Imran Khan warning of possible “ethnic cleansing” in Kashmir.

Dispatches from AFP concerning freedom of information, censorship and news coverage in regions where independent media is under threat.