- Associated Press - Monday, August 2, 2010

SRINAGAR, India (AP) — Government troops fired into crowds of protesters Monday as tens of thousands of people across Indian-controlled Kashmir demonstrated their rejection of India’s rule over the predominantly Muslim region, police said. Five protesters were killed and more than 30 wounded.

The top elected official in Kashmir, Omar Abdullah, met with Prime Minister Manmohan Singh in New Delhi on Monday to discuss defusing the crisis, which has caused 38 deaths over seven weeks.

“The need is to end the cycle of violence. Some semblance of normalcy has to be a precursor for any political initiative,” Mr. Abdullah told reporters.

The recent unrest in the Himalayan region — divided between India and Pakistan and claimed by both — is reminiscent of the late 1980s, when protests against New Delhi’s rule sparked an armed conflict that since has claimed 68,000 lives, mostly civilians.

Kashmiri Muslims have held massive street protests, attacked security camps with rocks and burned police stations. Government forces have responded by using live ammunition and tear gas to break up the protests against Indian rule.

Clashes erupted again Monday in dozens of places across the region as protesters defied a round-the-clock curfew.

At least two people were killed and another three wounded when government forces fired to disperse protesters blocking a highway in Sangam, a village south of Srinagar, said a police officer on condition of anonymity as he was not authorized to talk to reporters.

Government forces also fired on thousands of people holding street protests in the southern town of Kakpora, killing one and wounding five, the officer said.

As the news of the killing reached nearby villages, thousands more took to streets and burned a police station and scores of vehicles parked there, the officer said.

In the northern village of Kralpora, protesters set a security bunker on fire and ransacked a counterinsurgency police force camp, the officer said. Troops opened fire, killing one protester and injuring seven others, three critically, he said.

In another police firing incident, one person was killed and another wounded in the southern village of Chawalgam, the officer said.

Protesters also burned a government building and a local intelligence office in Budgam, a town to the west of Srinagar, the region’s main city. Four protesters were wounded there, the officer said.

The other injuries occurred in clashes elsewhere in the region, the officer said.

A state police statement said 39 police officers and 28 paramilitary soldiers also were injured in the daylong clashes with protesters.

In Srinagar, troops announced over public address systems mounted on their vehicles that stern action would be taken against those violating the curfew.

However, hundreds of protesters came out on the streets in several neighborhoods, chanting, “Go, India! Go back!” and “We want freedom.” Troops fired warning shots and tear gas to disperse the protesters, the police officer said.

Mr. Abdullah, in New Delhi, described the situation in the Kashmir Valley as worrisome and said that “some anti-social elements are hellbent to foment trouble, mayhem and bloodshed in the valley to satiate their political designs.”

On Sunday, he appealed to people of all shades of opinion, the media and religious heads to join the government in stopping the bloodshed, adding that he and his government cannot do it alone.

Last week, local authorities asked two retired judges to investigate the deaths of protesters, but the move has failed to calm the anger in the Kashmir region, where resistance to rule by predominantly Hindu India is strong.

India and Pakistan have fought two wars over Kashmir since 1947.

Separatist politicians and militants reject Indian sovereignty over Kashmir and want to carve out a separate homeland or merge with predominantly Muslim Pakistan.

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