SRINAGAR, June 29: Indian Kashmir is on the boil again: this time over the killing of eight young Kashmiris in less than three weeks allegedly at the hands of Indian security forces, report agencies.
The deaths have brought thousands of war-weary residents out onto the streets chanting "Blood for Blood!" and "Freedom for Kashmir!". Authorities have responded with bullets, tear gas, curfews and arrests.
The latest wave of unrest started on June 11 when a 17-year old student died after being hit by a teargas shell fired by police during an anti-India demonstration in Srinagar, Indian Kashmir''s summer capital.
Tufail Matoo was not part of the protest and was carrying his school bag when he was hit, his family said.
Since then seven other young Kashmiris have been killed during protests and another has died from serious skull injuries after being allegedly beaten-up by paramilitary soldiers.
The strikes, protests and growing ill-will are putting pressure on the young, British-born chief minister of the volatile Muslim-majority region, Omar Abdullah, a scion of Kashmir''s main political dynasty.
He came to office last year, promising to reduce the estimated 500,000 Indian troops in the Himalayan state and also to improve human rights.
"Omar (Abdullah) is facing a very serious challenge. The situation is fast getting out of control," the editor of leading Urdu weekly "Chattan" (Rock), Tahir Mohiudin, told AFP. "His seriousness on improving human rights is now being questioned," he said, adding the present situation has been "mishandled as security forces have used excessive force."
Leading separatist and chief priest of the region''s main mosque, Mirwaiz Umar Farooq, called at the weekend for Abdullah to resign "because he has failed to protect the lives of Kashmiris."
Meanwhile, five suspected insurgents and three Indian soldiers died in a fierce gunbattle in divided Kashmir when the militants tried to cross over from Pakistan into the Indian-controlled portion, an army officer said Tuesday, reports AP.
Meanwhile, tension has been rising in other areas of Kashmir as government forces allegedly have killed at least eight other people over the past two weeks during protests demanding the region''s independence from India.
Thousands of police in riot gear patrolled the main city, Srinagar, on Tuesday, and shops, businesses and government offices were shut.
Police and paramilitary soldiers drove through neighborhoods warning people to stay indoors and not participate in pro-independence protests, said Afaq Wani, a Srinagar resident. He said it was almost a curfew-like situation.
Sajad Ahmed, a local police officer, said that no curfew has been imposed but that the state government has banned the assembly in public of more than five people. Troops also erected steel barricades and laid razor wire across main roads to prevent public gatherings.
"We''re imposing restrictions to avoid clashes," Ahmed said. Similar restrictions were also imposed in several other towns in the region. In the violence-torn town of Sopore, 35 miles (55 kilometers) northwest of Srinagar, an indefinite curfew was in force for the fifth consecutive day.
The gunbattle near the India-Pakistan frontier broke out on Monday when a group of suspected militants infiltrated into Indian territory in the Nowgam sector, Col. Vineet Sood, an army spokesman, said Tuesday.
Nuclear-armed Pakistan and India have fought two wars over Kashmir and, since 1989, Muslim militants have fought in Indian-controlled Kashmir for independence or merger with Pakistan.
India accuses Pakistan of funding and training militants in the Pakistani-held portion of Kashmir and helping them slip over to the Indian side to fight. Islamabad denies the charge. More than 68,000 people, mostly civilians, have been killed in the conflict since 1989.