India: Street Protests Rock Kashmir for a Second Day

Amin Masoodi
Srinagar, India
2017-03-29
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170329-IN-kashmir-620.jpg Soldiers take position during a gun battle with suspected rebels in Budgam district, Indian Kashmir, March 28, 2017.
AFP

Violent protests returned to the streets of Indian-administered Kashmir on Wednesday, after three civilians were allegedly killed a day earlier by police gunfire following a shootout with a suspected separatist.

At least 25 people, including five police officers, were injured Wednesday during clashes between anti-India protesters and security forces in several districts of the insurgency-torn Himalayan region, police said.

“As of now the situation is under control. We are hoping there will be complete normalcy soon,” Indian Kashmir’s police chief, S.P. Vaid, told BenarNews.

“Although encounter sites are out of bound for civilians, unfortunately they still pour into the area in large numbers and clash with security forces in order to help the militants escape,” Vaid said, referring to growing local support for armed separatists fighting against what they call Indian oppressive rule.

The violence occurred amid heightened security across Kashmir after separatists called for a region-wide shut-down to protest the killings of three civilians in Budgam district on Tuesday.

Amir Ahmad Waza, 15, Zahid Rashid Ganie, 24 and Ishfaq Ahmad, 23, were killed when police allegedly opened fire on protesters who hurled stones protesting the killing of a suspected Hizbul Mujahideen (HM) militant identified as Tauseef Ahmad Wagey during the shootout.

Waza’s cousin, Zahida, said the slain teenager was a bright student who aspired to be a doctor.

“Amir was not one of the stone pelters. He had gone out to buy books. He was a serious and bright student,” she told India Today.

‘Stay away from encounter sites’

Tuesday’s violence left more than a dozen protesters and one security personnel wounded, reviving memories of months-long violence in Kashmir’s streets between security forces and anti-government protesters that followed the killing of an HM commander in July 2016. HM is the largest armed separatist group in Kashmir, a region claimed in its entirety by India and Pakistan, and where an insurgency has claimed more than 70,000 lives since the 1980s.

The near-daily clashes, which lasted about five months, claimed more than 100 lives and left more than 10,000 injured.

“Police are forced to take extreme measures when the situation goes out of control,” Vaid said.

A total of 13 civilians have been killed during protests this year alone and amid frequent gun fights between security forces and suspected militants, according to official figures. So far in 2017, at least 32 alleged separatists and 10 security personnel have died in counter-insurgency operations.

“I appeal to all Kashmiri civilians to stay away from encounter sites so that security forces are able to eliminate militants without causing unwanted civilian casualties,” Vaid said.

Meanwhile, security forces have launched a manhunt for Yaseen Yatoo, a prominent HM leader, who is believed to have escaped from the site of Tuesday’s encounter in Budgam district, police said.

“We believe Yatoo was inside the house along with Wagey, who was killed in the gun battle with security forces. But he managed to escape when the protests erupted,” a police official, requesting anonymity, told BenarNews.

“We have launched searches in Budgam and Srinagar districts to track him down. Yatoo is wanted in a number of cases and has been instrumental in recruiting local youths HM’s armed struggle,” he said.

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