Thursday 22 August 2019

Kashmir on high alert for prime minister Narendra Modi's visit

Policemen stop civilians near the venue of Narendra Modi's rally in Srinagar (AP)
Policemen stop civilians near the venue of Narendra Modi's rally in Srinagar (AP)

The main city in Indian Kashmir was under a security lockdown today to prevent protests during the visit of Indian prime minister Narendra Modi.

Police sharpshooters were stationed on the rooftops of all buildings near the cricket stadium in Srinagar, where Modi addressed a rally. The buildings were occupied by security troops.

Thousands of people, most of them party workers and supporters of the state's People's Democratic Party, were brought to the venue in buses under tight security.

Modi steered clear of discussing politics during his visit to the disputed area, and instead promised to bring greater economic development and jobs to the troubled Himalayan region. He promised the region an economic package that he hoped would "change the fate of Kashmir".

"I want to build a new Kashmir, a powerful Kashmir," he said in his nearly hour-long speech, which comes a year after massive floods devastated the region.

He is also expected to inaugurate a power project and a new highway.

A number of rebel groups have operated in Kashmir since an insurgency erupted in 1989. More than 68,000 people have been killed in the fighting and the ensuing crackdown by Indian forces.

Residents of the Indian-held portion strongly favour independence or a merger with Pakistan. Their deep opposition to Indian rule is often expressed through street demonstrations since Indian troops largely suppressed the armed uprising.

On Saturday, heavy security meant that the streets were deserted, except for government troops in riot gear carrying automatic weapons.

Separatists had planned a rally near the site of Modi's speech, but his address passed without any major protests. Scores of people who attempted to march earlier in the day were dispersed by government troops.

Ahead of the visit, police detained separatist leaders and hundreds of their supporters to prevent the protest against Indian control over the disputed region.

Muslim-majority Kashmir is divided between Hindu-dominated India and Muslim-majority Pakistan, with both claiming the entire territory.

PA Media

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