|Monday's death toll was the highest since separatist protests broke out in June against Indian rule [AFP]
At least 15 people have been killed in Indian Kashmir in protests against Indian rule and reports of Quran burning, in the most deadly day of violence since mass demonstrations began three months ago, state police say.
Despite a rigid curfew imposed across the region, tens of thousands of protesters took to the streets on Monday, throwing rocks, torching government buildings and chanting "Go India, go back. We want freedom.''
Security forces shot live ammunition at some of the crowds, killing people in at least five different villages, said a police officer, who spoke on condition of anonymity because he was not authorised to speak with media.
In the village of Tangmarg, troops fired on thousands of rock-throwing demonstrators, killing five people and wounding at least 50 others, the police officer said. Earlier, protesters burned at least four government buildings as well as a schoolhouse in the town.
In Budgam, troops tried to disperse demonstrators with tear gas and baton charges but began firing into the crowd after protesters attacked a police station and the government forces with rocks, the police officer said.
At least four people including a young woman were killed and at least 30 others were wounded, some critically, the officer said.
A policeman was also killed during the protests in Budgam after he was hit by a vehicle that then sped away, the officer said. At least four other protesters were killed in three other towns, he said.
Mirwaiz Umar Farooq, the main separatist leader, told Al Jazeera there is no room for political protest in Kashmir.
"I have been under house arrest since Eid, many of my party have been arrested," Farooq said.
"In many places the protests are very peaceful ... [but Indian] troops are firing indiscriminately [at protesters]."
|Despite a rigid curfew across the region tens of thousands of protesters have taken to the streets [Reuters]
Monday's toll includes at least seven people killed in police clashes after thousands of Muslim protesters set fire to a Christian missionary school and government buildings in two Kashmiri districts to denounce reports on the Iranian state-run channel, Press TV, that copies of the Quran had been damaged in the US over the weekend.
Though a Florida pastor called off his plans to burn the Muslim holy book, the channel showed footage of a different man destroying a Quran.
The protesters chanted "Down with Quran desecrators,'' and protest leaders denounced the alleged desecration in speeches to the crowds.
The death toll was the highest since separatist protests broke out in June against Indian rule in the northern state.
In a statement at the end of a special cabinet meeting on Kashmir, on Monday, the Indian government said it was "deeply distressed by the turn of events" and appealed for calm.
However, it decided against heeding calls from some in the government to partially lift a 20-year-old army emergency law, that gives sweeping powers to security forces in Kashmir.
The government offered to take part in talks with all peaceful groups in Kashmir, which would cover the "trust deficit and the governance deficit".
It also called an all-party meeting for Wednesday in New Delhi "to take certain initiatives and measures that will build confidence of people."
Saeed Naqvi, a political commentator based in New Delhi, told Al Jazeera that Delhi has been preoccupied with other problems and ignored the Kashmir issue.
"There is a trust deficit [between India and Kashmir] and it has been addressed by inaction, unimaginative policy, even absence of policy, on the part of New Delhi," he said.
"There is angst and anger [in Kashmir]. After three months of bloodshed and agitation ... [the struggle] has acquired an intensity and velocity. All they had to do was tone down the profile of the army.
"Nobody likes a foreign army and the Indian army looks like a foreign army to them."
Pankaj Mishra, a political commentator, told Al Jazeera that India has never had a coherent policy on Kashmir.
"They have basically instituted a policy of watching things, letting things go on and not doing anything about it," he said.
"And in that, they have been rewarded by the indifference of the rest of world to this conflict which is hardly ever covered or talked about.
"Manmohan Singh [India's prime minister] has been making these kinds of noises for quite some time, but nothing comes of it."
Source: Al Jazeera and agencies