Security tightened in Kashmir to stop protests

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The Independent Online

Tens of thousands of police and paramilitary soldiers patrolled the streets in Indian-controlled Kashmir as security was tightened across most parts of the region today a day after government forces killed four people during protests against Indian rule.

Authorities reimposed a strict curfew in Srinagar, the main city, and in most major towns in an attempt to halt the protests in the Himalayan region in which at least 55 people have died over the past two months.

"We're taking no chances and have imposed the curfew to stop more protests," a police officer said on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to speak to the media.

Streets in many towns were largely deserted except for police and paramilitary soldiers. In Srinagar, government forces laid razor wire and erected steel barricades to block access to the city's normally congested downtown areas.

Troops drove through neighborhoods and told residents to stay indoors.

The curfew in Srinagar was lifted Friday after a key separatist leader and cleric, Mirwaiz Umar Farooq, warned of total defiance if worshippers were stopped from praying at the Jamia Masjid, the city's main mosque.

Chief Minister Omar Abdullah, Indian-administered Kashmir's top elected official, planned to review the situation with top army, paramilitary and police officials later Saturday, an official statement said.

The unrest, which began in June, shows no signs of easing despite the deployment of more troops and calls from the Indian prime minister for calm.

On Friday, tens of thousands of Kashmiris staged angry street demonstrations after government forces killed four people and injured 31 others.

Separatists say the protests against Indian rule will continue despite the Muslim fasting month of Ramadan, which began Thursday.

Anti-India sentiment runs deep in Kashmir, which is divided between India and Pakistan but claimed by both. Protesters reject Indian sovereignty over Kashmir and want to form a separate country or merge with predominantly Muslim Pakistan.

The situation in recent weeks has been reminiscent of the late 1980s, when protests against New Delhi's rule sparked an armed conflict that has so far killed more than 68,000 people, mostly civilians.