Monday, August 25, 2008

SRINAGAR, India | Paramilitary soldiers opened fire on a group of Muslim protesters in Indian Kashmir after they defied curfew late Sunday and tried to storm into a police camp, an official said. One person was killed and another was seriously injured.

The protesters had surrounded a Central Reserve Police Force (CPRF) camp in Srinagar, the main city in India’s Jammu-Kashmir state, forcing troops to open fire, Prabhakar Tripathi, the CRPF spokesman, said. He gave no other details or estimates of the size of the crowd.

A witness, however, said the soldiers had fired on a man and his son without any provocation. Mohammed Ismail said his neighbors, Ghulam Qadir and his son, were just standing near the entrance to their home when they were fired upon.

In Baramullah town, 35 miles north of Srinagar, thousands of people also defied an indefinite curfew imposed in Muslim-majority areas of the volatile Himalayan region.

Government troops there were forced to use tear gas and fire rubber bullets when the angry mob began to throw stones at them, a local police official said on the condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to speak to reporters.

At least 27 people, including seven paramilitary soldiers, were injured in the violence, he said.

The curfew comes amid a weekend strike in the region’s main city and the largest protests against Indian rule in more than a decade, intensifying the turmoil that has roiled the region for almost two months.

Police drove through neighborhoods in the mainly Muslim Kashmir Valley before dawn Sunday, announcing the curfew and warning residents to stay indoors. Thousands of security forces patrolled the deserted streets of Srinagar.

Police warned “stern action will be taken against violators” of the curfew.

Botlagauduru Srinivas, a senior police officer, said the army had been called in to assist the police in enforcing law and order.

Earlier in the day, thousands of people took to the streets of Handwara, a town 65 miles north of Srinagar, to defy the curfew. The demonstrators chanted pro-independence slogans and said that government forces had desecrated the Koran, the Muslim holy book.

Mr. Srinivas called the charge “totally baseless.”

Security forces fired tear gas and used batons to stop the protesters, Mr. Srinivas said. There were no immediate reports of injuries.

In Srinagar, chants of “We want freedom!” could be heard from public announcement systems at mosques. The announcements also exhorted people to defy the curfew.

At least 10 journalists who were outside during the curfew were beaten by paramilitary soldiers, and three of them were hospitalized, said Farooq Khan, president of Kashmir Press Photographers Association.

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