- Associated Press - Sunday, August 1, 2010

SRINAGAR, India (AP) — Four people were gunned down Sunday by security forces who opened fire on thousands of protesters at two separate places in increasingly violent Indian Kashmir, bringing the death toll from weeks of clashes to 27.

Demonstrators began hurling stones after government forces tried to prevent them from marching in the town of Pampore, a police officer said on condition of anonymity as he was not authorized to talk with reporters.

Government forces opened fire, killing two of the protesters, the officer said.

Another two people were killed and five others injured in firing by government forces in the nearby town of Khrew, where hundreds of people marched through the streets chanting pro-independence slogans, the officer said.

Also in Khrew, a powerful blast blew up a police station after it was set on fire by residents angry at the deaths, a resident said by phone.

Syed Ahmed said several casualties were feared in the blast at the local police station, which also houses a state counterinsurgency police force.

“A deafening blast shook the earth beneath, and a flying brick hit my head,” said Mohammed Yousuf, an eyewitness. “We don’t know what happened inside the premises, but outside many were left injured.”

A police officer confirmed the blast and said casualties were feared. The officer spoke on condition of anonymity as he was not authorized to speak with media.

A lot of explosive material used in quarry blasting is stored in the police post as the town is known for its cement industry.

As night fell, thousands of Kashmiri Muslims held protest marches in towns and villages across the region and clashed with government forces, police and local residents said. Many injuries were feared in the violence, police said.

Hundreds of residents of Pampore and nearby villages had joined demonstrations Sunday and set government buildings and vehicles on fire after hearing about the shooting deaths of two people on Saturday, police and witnesses said.

The two were shot dead and five others were wounded after police in two towns opened fire on protesters who had attacked their camps and pelted them with rocks.

The recent tension 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. More than 68,000 people have been killed, mostly civilians.

The mostly Muslim region, where resistance to rule by predominantly Hindu India is strong, has been under a rolling curfew and strikes after anti-India street protests and clashes surged.

The latest cycle of protests against Indian rule in the troubled region has left at least 27 dead — mostly teenagers and young men in their 20s — over the past six weeks.

India and Pakistan have fought two wars over control of Kashmir since 1947. Both claim the region in entirety.

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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