Separatist leaders in Indian Kashmir have urged people to defy a ban and join a mass march after Friday prayers this week, the first such call since the federal government revoked the region’s autonomy, stirring anger in the region and beyond.
Hundreds of political leaders and activists, many of them separatists seeking Kashmir’s secession from India, have been incarcerated and the appeal to the public came through posters that appeared overnight in the region’s main city of Srinagar.
‘Every person, young and old, men and women, should march after Friday prayers,’ the Joint Resistance Leadership, which represents all major separatist groups, said on one poster.
The public must march to the office of the UN Military Observer group in Srinagar, which was set up in 1949 after the first war between India and Pakistan over Kashmir.
Prime minister Narendra Modi’s government revoked Muslim majority Kashmir’s special status under which people from the rest of India could not buy property or compete for government jobs and college places.
Modi’s ruling party had long sought an end to Kashmir’s special status, seeing it as appeasement of minorities and a barrier to its integration with the rest of the country.
But critics said the withdrawal of its legal autonomy would cause further alienation and fuel the 30-year revolt in Indian-administered Kashmir, in which at least 50,000 people have been killed.
A suspected militant and a policeman were killed in the first gun battle since the new measures were announced, police said Wednesday after US president Donald Trump offered to mediate the ‘explosive’ situation, reports AFP.
In a further sign of rising tensions, Pakistan said meanwhile that three of its civilians died in Indian gunfire from across the de-facto border in Kashmir known as the Line of Control.
The Press Trust of India news agency quoted officials as saying one Indian soldier died and four were wounded when Pakistani troops opened fire on forward posts and villages along the LoC in the Poonch district on Tuesday.
Trump — who has previously spoken of his willingness to mediate — said he would raise the situation over the weekend with Modi. Both men are expected in France for a summit of the Group of Seven industrialised nations.
‘Kashmir is a very complicated place. You have Hindus and you have the Muslims and I wouldn’t say they get along so great,’ Trump told reporters at the White House.
‘I will do the best I can to mediate,’ he added.
At least 4,000 people have been detained in Indian-controlled Kashmir, according to security and government sources, since early August when authorities imposed a communications blackout and restricted freedom of movement in the region.
British prime minister Boris Johnson told Modi in a phone call on Tuesday that the Kashmir dispute must be resolved between India and Pakistan alone, Downing Street said.
Crowds have demonstrated frequently in Srinagar despite a ban on public gatherings and the severe restriction of phone and internet services.
One of the posters said the federal government planned to change the demographics of Kashmir by flooding it with outsiders and urged clerics to speak about these fears during their sermons on Friday.
In the Soura part of Srinagar, where protests have flared, some residents said that they would try to join the protests.
‘We will try, people will try to go,’ said one middle-aged man said, after reading a poster pasted at a crossroads near the area’s main mosque.
‘But we don’t know if they will let us,’ he said.
In the Zainakadal area of Srinagar’s old quarter, where all shops were shuttered, and few people roamed, residents said they hadn’t heard of the call for protests.
‘If our leaders call, we will come out,’ said a man said.
‘There will be protests, our protests won’t stop.’
On Tuesday, one person was critically wounded when security forces fired pellets in Srinagar’s Fatehkadal area during some stone-throwing by protesters, a senior police official and government official said.
‘He is on a ventilator,’ the government official said of the wounded man.
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