Hundreds of protesters in Indian-administered Kashmir clashed with police yesterday as the UN Security Council began its first meeting on the territory in nearly half a century, with tensions soaring over New Delhi’s move to strip the disputed region of its autonomy.
The meeting began as Pakistani Prime Minister Imran Khan spoke with US President Donald Trump, who last month controversially offered to mediate in the seven-decade old Kashmir dispute between nuclear-armed rivals India and Pakistan.
New Delhi ended the autonomous status of its portion of the Muslim-majority territory in the first week of August, stepping up movement restrictions and cutting off phone and Internet access to head off civil unrest, and igniting calls from Pakistan for the international community to intervene. Police fired teargas and pellet-firing shotguns to disperse residents who tried to march down the main road in the main city of Srinagar after Friday prayers yesterday.
Protesters hurled stones and used shop hoardings and tin sheets as improvised shields, as police shot dozens of rounds into the crowd. No injuries were reported. “We are trying to breach the siege and march to the city centre but police is using force to stop us,” one protester told AFP. Yesterday’s Security Council meeting in New York – the first to discuss Kashmir since 1972 – came as Khan spoke to Trump by telephone to express his concerns over India’s actions, according to Pakistani foreign minister Shah Mehmood Qureshi.
“A good discussion took place between both leaders and it was decided that they will remain in constant contact,” he said in Islamabad.
During a meeting with Khan in July, Trump said that Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi had asked him to help mediate the Kashmir dispute – a claim Delhi strenuously denied. India has always insisted the Kashmir issue can only be resolved bilaterally with Pakistan.
Sporadic clashes were reported yesterday in other parts of the Kashmir Valley, the main hotbed of resistance to Indian rule for decades. Major towns and cities in the valley remained under curfew, with government forces allowing people to move only on special passes. Government forces erected steep barricades and used concertina wires to block roads.
No big gatherings were allowed in the valley and most mosques were shut for the second consecutive Friday. The protesters marched along the lanes of Srinagar, carrying black flags – signifying grief – and placards with slogans including “Go India, go back”.
Fearing an angry and potentially violent response to its move to end Kashmir’s autonomous status, India deployed 10,000 additional troops – joining the half a million already there – severely restricted movement and cut telecommunications. Kashmiri politicians – alongside university professors, business leaders and activists – are among the more than 500 people that have since been taken into custody.
Despite the lockdown, 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”.
Tens of thousands of people, most of them civilians, have died in an uprising against Indian rule that has raged since 1989.
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