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India seals off Kashmir to fend off fresh protest

Police on Tuesday sealed off residential areas and reimposed a round-the-clock curfew in the Kashmir valley to pre-empt the first anti-India rally since authorities announced concessions to end violent protests.

A new protest with a wide following would have been interpreted as a setback for New Delhi’s peace initiative launched three weeks ago and obliged the government to pursue other ways to deal with the unrest in the disputed region.

The hardline separatist leader in majority-Muslim Kashmir called on residents to defy the curfew and go into the streets.

Thousands of police and soldiers in riot gear patrolled deserted streets and told residents through loudspeakers to stay indoors.

“Authorities have decided to impose valley-wide strict curfew restrictions,” a police statement said. “There are no reports of any untoward incident from anywhere so far.”

At least 110 people have been killed since June, mostly by police bullets. The protests are the biggest since an armed revolt 1989 against Indian rule in the Himalayan region, which both India and Pakistan claim in full but rule in parts.

The recent wave of protests in Indian Kashmir subsided after New Delhi relaxed security in Srinagar, the summer capital, freed some 50 protesters, announced compensation for families of the dead and offered to talk to all political groups.

But many Kashmiris dismiss the offer as inadequate and hardline separatists said they would press on with protests.

Opinion surveys show a large majority of Kashmiris favour independence from the region from both India and Pakistan.

Over the past four months, the Kashmir valley has been in a siege-like state of strikes, protests and curfews. Shops have remained shut, along with most schools, and daily activities are subject to severe disruption.

Tuesday’s rally had been called by Syed Ali Shah Geelani, a hardliner who has emerged as the leading figure in anti-Indian protests.

“In this situation, we have only two options: either surrender before Indian bullying, or uphold the sanctity of our sacrifices and struggle on till we achieve our goal,” he said in a statement.

Tens of thousands have been killed in Kashmir since simmering discontent against Indian rule turned into a full-blown rebellion over two-decades ago.

India and Pakistan have fought two of their three wars since partition and independence in 1947 over the region.

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