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Saturday 24 August 2019

Curfew eased in Kashmir’s main city for Friday prayers

The volatile region is in lockdown after Indian MPs voted to suspend its special status.

Protests after Friday prayers in Srinagar (AP Photo/ Dar Yasin)
Protests after Friday prayers in Srinagar (AP Photo/ Dar Yasin)

By Associated Press Reporters

A curfew in Indian-administered Kashmir in effect for a fifth day was eased on Friday to allow residents to pray at mosques, officials said, but some protests broke out in the disputed region despite thousands of security forces in the streets as tensions remained high with Pakistan.

The predominantly Muslim area has been under the unprecedented lockdown and near-total communications blackout to prevent unrest and protests after India’s Hindu nationalist-led government said on Monday it was revoking Kashmir’s special constitutional status and downgrading its statehood.

Thousands of Indian troops were deployed to the area, with more than 500 people arrested.

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Soldiers in Jammu (Channi Anand/AP)

Kashmir is claimed in its entirety by both India and Pakistan and is divided between the arch rivals. Rebels have been fighting New Delhi’s rule for decades in the Indian-controlled portion, and most Kashmiri residents want either independence or a merger with Pakistan.

Dilbagh Singh, the region’s police chief, said residents in its largest city of Srinagar were allowed to pray at area-specific mosques.

The relaxing of the curfew in Srinagar was temporary, officials said.

“We see a sense of calm and normalcy. There has been no incident of violence,” external affairs ministry spokesman Raveesh Kumar told reporters in New Delhi.

In Srinagar’s Mochu neighbourhood, a group of people trying to start an anti-government protest threw stones at security forces who tried to stop them, and paramilitary troops responded by firing tear gas and pellets to disperse the crowd, an AP photographer said.

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Kashmiris during a protest in Srinagar (Altaf Qadri/AP)

Other stone-throwing incidents were reported in Sopore in northern Kashmir, about 40 miles from Srinagar, but the situation was brought under control immediately by security forces, the Press Trust of India news agency said.

While people were allowed to offer prayers in their local mosques, PTI reported that there would be no Friday congregation at Srinagar’s historic Jama Masjid, where thousands of Muslims pray every week. It has been a centre of regular anti-India protests after Friday prayers.

Authorities closely watched for any anti-India protests, which are expected to determine a further easing of restrictions for the Muslim festival of Eid al-Adha on Monday.

In an address to the nation on Thursday night, prime minister Narendra Modi promised Kashmiri people that his government is making “sincere efforts to ensure that the people in the region have no difficulties in celebrating Eid”.

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Indians watch Narendra Modi address the nation (Channi Anand/AP)

The restrictions on public movement throughout Kashmir have forced people to stay indoors and closed shops and even clinics. Mr Modi said the situation would return to normal gradually.

The move by India to change the status of Kashmir from statehood to a territory limits its autonomy and decision-making power and eliminates its right to its own constitution.

In Islamabad, about 8,000 supporters of the Pakistani Islamist party Jamaat-e-Islami marched towards the Indian embassy to denounce New Delhi’s action on Kashmir. About 2,000 police and security forces were deployed to prevent the demonstrations reaching the embassy.

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Protesters in Islamabad (BK Bangash/AP)

Hundreds of activists held similar peaceful rallies across Pakistan.

Pakistan said it is considering an approach to the International Court of Justice over India’s action. It has downgraded diplomatic ties with New Delhi, expelled the Indian ambassador and suspended trade and train services with India.

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