At least seven civilians were killed and dozens injured on Saturday when security forces fired at anti-India protesters in Indian Kashmir following a gunfight that left three militants and a soldier dead, authorities said.
After the killings, authorities said they imposed a curfew in southern Pulwama district, about 45 km (28 miles) from Srinagar, triggering widespread protests and condemnation from separatists and political leaders in the disputed Himalayan region.
Rebel leaders under the banner of Joint Resistance Leadership (JRL), an alliance of top-ranked leaders that advocates the separation of Kashmir from India, called for a three-day shutdown in the region and planned a protest march to the army cantonment on Monday.
Earlier Saturday, security forces ringed a village after being tipped about a group of militants. The militants hiding in an apple orchard fired shots at security forces, police said.
“While the forces were engaged in the gun-battle, dozens of protesters started hurling stones at the security forces from all directions in a bid to help the militants to flee,” Additional Director General of Police Munir Khan told BenarNews. “The police opened fire to stop the mob resulting in the death of seven civilians besides the three militants. A soldier was also killed in the gun battle.”
“Despite an advisory issued by police from time to time asking people to stay away from gunfight sites, youths endanger their lives by thronging to such dangerous sites,” Khan said.
Fearing escalation in street protests, authorities on Saturday stopped internet services in south Kashmir.
Seven civilians were killed on Oct. 22 when a bomb went off near the site of a gun battle between militants and security forces in southern Kulgam district. In addition, officials said 47 people, including militants, were killed in November.
India and Pakistan have been locked in a territorial dispute over predominantly Muslim Kashmir since the partition of the Indian sub-continent in 1947. An outbreak of insurgency in Indian Kashmir has claimed more than 70,000 lives — mostly civilians — since the late 1980s.
The latest killings were condemned by separatist leaders and political leaders in Kashmir.
“The JRL and the people will march toward Badami Bagh Army cantonment on Monday to ask forces to kill all of us at one time rather than killing us daily,” Mirwaiz Umar Farooq, tweeted.
Former Jammu and Kashmir Chief Minister Omar Abdullah also spoke out against the killings.
“This is a massacre and that is the only way to describe it. There is no explanation for this excessive use of force, none whatsoever,” Omar tweeted.
Mehbooba Mufti, former chief minister of Jammu and Kashmir state, called for efforts to put an end to the killings.
“How long are we going to shoulder the coffins of our youngsters? So many civilians killed today post encounter in Pulwama. No country can win a war by killing its own people. I strongly condemn these killings, and once again appeal for efforts, to stop this bloodbath,” Mufti tweeted.