SRINAGAR, India (Reuters) - Indian troops fired at anti-India protesters, killing at least three people in troubled Kashmir, police said, as tensions rose in a region at the core of Delhi’s dispute with nuclear-armed neighbour Pakistan.
The latest round of demonstrations was sparked by the deaths of at least 11 people blamed on government forces over the past two weeks and was among the biggest anti-India protests in two years.
Most of those killed were protesters, who died of bullet wounds, and one was beaten to death, hospital sources said.
Authorities imposed a curfew in parts of Kashmir and deployed thousands of troops on Tuesday to quell fresh protests that are spreading to other parts of the Muslim-majority valley.
Police and paramilitary soldiers in riot gear patrolled deserted streets in Srinagar, the capital of the mainly Muslim Kashmir, and warned residents to stay indoors, witnesses said.
“Three youths were killed and two others critically injured in Anantnag town when security men fired on protesters who pelted stones at them,” Imtiyaz Ahmad, a police official said.
If New Delhi links the protests to Islamabad then they could hurt a tentative process the two sides have begun to repair their relations after the 2008 attacks on Mumbai, which India blames on Pakistan-based militants.
On Tuesday, some Indian media quoted unnamed government sources as saying Pakistan-based “elements” may have been fomenting the protests in Kashmir.
“This is a battle of wits, it is a battle of ideas, it is a battle of ideologies in which various anti-national forces and vested interests have come together to create trouble,” Chief Minister of Jammu and Kashmir, Omar Abdullah, told a reporters.
India accuses Pakistan of fuelling unrest in Kashmir, which both claim in full but rule in part and over which they have fought two wars.
Pakistan says it only lends moral support to what it calls is an independence movement by Kashmiris.
“The discontent and alienation is in its peak now in Kashmir, and I don’t see the government making any serious effort in addressing it,” said Noor Ahmad Baba, dean of social sciences at Kashmir University.
Peace in Kashmir is seen as crucial for progress in relations between the two countries. The conflict in Kashmir has killed tens of thousands of people since a revolt against New Delhi broke out in the scenic Himalayan region two decades ago.
Editing by Krittivas Mukherjee and Miral Fahmy