SRINAGAR, INDIA // An indefinite curfew was extended to most of Indian Kashmir and the region's main city was locked down today to prevent a rally against Indian rule. Separatist politicians called for the rally at the Eidgah grounds, a large square near Srinagar's Martyr's Graveyard, where hundreds of separatists and civilians who died in the last two decades of the armed conflict are buried. The curfew was also to prevent the usual practice of people joining protest rallies after Friday prayers, city residents said.
Police and paramilitary soldiers drove through neighbourhoods and went to people's homes warning them to stay indoors, said Bashir Bhat, a resident of Safakadal district in Srinagar, Indian Kashmir's main city. Mehraj Ahmad Kakroo, a civilian official, announced the curfew across all of the city on television today and asked people not to step out of their homes. Authorities had first imposed an indefinite curfew in parts of Srinagar and other key towns on Wednesday as street protests and clashes surged in the region. At least 11 people have died over the past three weeks in shootings blamed on police and paramilitary soldiers.
Shops, businesses, schools and government offices have been shut. Authorities have postponed college examinations and blocked text messages on cell phones in an attempt to prevent demonstrators from gathering on the streets. "The curfew and restrictions are in place to avoid any law-and-order situation," said Farooq Ahmed, a senior police officer. While anti-India demonstrations are frequent in the region, the latest street violence erupted after a police investigation in June found Indian army soldiers had killed three Kashmiri civilians in a staged gunfight and then claimed their victims were militants to claim a reward. The army responded by suspending two officers.
Separatist politicians and armed militants reject Indian sovereignty in Kashmir, and want to carve out a separate homeland or merge the Himalayan region into Pakistan. Anti-India sentiment runs deep in Kashmir, which is divided between India and Pakistan and is claimed by both. More than 68,000 people, mostly civilians, have been killed in the insurgency since 1989. * AP