India protests widen after Kashmir deaths

Image: Kashmiri Muslims shout slogans as they throw stones at Indian paramilitary soldiers
Muslims throw stones at Indian paramilitary soldiers after they were stopped from joining a funeral procession for Sheik Abdul Aziz in Srinagar on Tuesday. At least 11 people were killed in protests.Farooq Khan / EPA
/ Source: The Associated Press

Riots erupted across Indian-controlled Kashmir on Wednesday as Muslims mourned 15 people killed in a day of bloody violence, as the protests spread to other parts of India.

Violence has roiled the Himalayan region since June 23 when Muslims and Hindus began tit-for-tat protests over a government proposal to transfer land to a Hindu shrine in India's only Muslim-majority state.

In the town of Kishtwar, where Hindus and Muslims clashed Tuesday leaving two dead, police said they would shoot anyone violating a curfew. Kishtwar is some 155 miles north of Jammu, the region's only majority Hindu city.

The police have been ordered to shoot protesters on sight in Kishtwar, according to Hemant Lohia, a senior police officer. "This last option becomes the first in order not to let the situation go out of hand."

'Blood for blood'
In Srinagar, the main city in the region, several thousand protesters took to the streets, attacking police posts and chanting slogans calling for revenge.

"Blood for blood" and "We want freedom," they chanted as they ransacked sandbagged police bunkers across the city. There were also reports of protests in other cities across Kashmir as special prayers were being held in mosques and homes for those killed on Tuesday, the bloodiest day since the unrest started.

Police fired at hundreds of rock-throwing protesters at Fateh Kadal, a suburb in Srinagar, said a police officer on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to speak with media. Three people were wounded, he said.

There were no other immediate reports of casualties.

Separatist political leaders called for three days of mourning and urged people to keep their protests peaceful.

"Kashmiris will continue to agitate peacefully and we should not give Indian oppressors any chance to use brute force," said Mirwaiz Omer Farooq, a separatist leader.

On Wednesday, the protests spilled over to other parts of India, with Hindu nationalist groups blocking traffic and railway lines for several hours in New Delhi, Mumbai and the tourist hub of Agra, home to the Taj Mahal.

In New Delhi and Mumbai several dozen activists from the World Hindu Organization, known as the VHP, blocked roads for up to two hours, demanding that the land allocated to the shrine be restored. The plan had been shelved after widespread Muslim protests.

"The central government must give the land to the Amarnath shrine board. Otherwise, our protest will continue," said VHP General Secretary Pravin Togadia, warning that they would launch a "nationwide movement. "

Some 50 protesters were detained in Mumbai, said police officer Pran Gokhale.

Meanwhile, in Agra, activists blocked railway lines for several hours disrupting rail schedules across northern India, said railway official Nirmal Sharma.

Region-wide lockdown
Earlier Wednesday, thousands of people streamed out of their homes to buy supplies as authorities relaxed a curfew for several hours.

The lockdown, the first to be imposed across the entire Kashmir region in 18 years, was ordered after separatist leader Sheikh Abdul Aziz and four others were killed Monday while attempting to march to the Pakistan-controlled portion of Kashmir to protest a blockade by Hindus of the highway linking the Kashmir Valley with the rest of India.

Police shot and killed 15 people Tuesday as thousands took to the streets to protest his death. Some 100,000 people defied the curfew to attend his funeral at the Martyrs Graveyard in Srinagar, vowing to fulfill his legacy and achieve independence for Kashmir from India.

Kashmir is divided between India and Pakistan, which have fought two of their three wars over the region and both claim it in its entirety.

More than a dozen Islamic militant groups have been fighting since 1989 for Kashmir's independence or its merger with Pakistan. More than 68,000 people have been killed in the fighting.

The protests have crystallized anti-Indian feeling in Kashmir just as Indian forces appeared to be gaining an upper hand in their nearly two decade fight against the region's separatist rebels.