Central & South Asia

Protests hit Kashmir after deadly shootout

At least four people, including two alleged rebels, killed, as locals insist all those shot were civilians.

Last Modified: 07 Sep 2013 19:04
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Locals described the men as civilians and said troops shot them as they rode past a security camp [AFP]

A protest has taken place in Indian-administered Kashmir after police said they killed two alleged rebels and two civilians in the disputed Himalayan territory.

The unrest came as authorities maintained tight security for a Bavarian music concert being staged amid separatist objections.

Police said two of the men were armed rebels, but residents of the area described all four as civilians and said troops shot them as they rode past a security camp on a motorcycle.

Police inspector general Nalin Prabhat said on Saturday that police were retaliating against alleged rebels who had opened fire on a police camp in the area, which is about 50km south of Srinagar, the main city in the Indian-administered Kashmir.

Police said they recovered weapons and were working to identify the rebels. They confirmed that two civilians were also killed and one person was injured in the shootout.

According to Associated Press news agency, hundreds of residents, disputing the police account, swarmed the streets of the main town in Shopian district after the shooting. Police fired tear gas and used batons to disperse the crowds.

Adil Ahmed, a 26-year-old student who was shot twice in the stomach, said from a hospital bed that there were no alleged rebels at the site of the incident, and that police gunfire was unprovoked. He said the two men accused of being rebels by police were actually students riding a motorcycle to a local exam centre.

Meanwhile, just north of Shopian, suspected rebels hurled a grenade at a group of law enforcement officers standing outside the Pulwama district hospital, police said. Nine people were injured, including two civilians, they said.

Controversial concert

Srinagar was under tight security amid separatist calls for a strike to protest a concert by a Bavarian orchestra, conducted by the renowned Zubin Mehta. Government buses shuttled concert guests to the outdoor garden venue on the city's outskirts.

Organisers said the concert would go ahead despite demands by Kashmiri separatists for the event to be cancelled on the grounds that it legitimised Indian "state repression" in the restive region.

The concert by Mumbai-born Mehta, organised by Indian Kashmir's state tourism department and the German embassy in New Delhi, was expected to draw 1,500 invited guests, including ministers and diplomats.

According to Al Jazeera’s Karishma Vyas, reporting from Srinigar, the 1,500 guests were mostly high profile politicians and celebrities, while locals watched from the street.

Separtists say the concert diverts attention from Kashmir's problems.

"We feel that people from outside have been invited into our home, but we ourselves don't have an invitation," said Feroz Ahmad, a Srinagar resident.

Even the orchestra has accused organisers of hijacking the event.

"The German ambassador made out of it an elite event for special guests, for celebrities, for a few people of course from here, and this is against art," Nikolaus Bachler, general manager of the Bavarian State Opera told Al Jazeera.

“We have nothing against Zubin Mehta [...] no one is against the event itself. But it has assumed political overtures, as an attempt is being made that everything is normal and peaceful in Kashmir, which is not the case," Mirwaiz Umar Farooq, a pro-Independence leader, told reporters in Srinagar.

Civil society groups have organised an alternate concert in central Srinagar, where they were also showing photographs and giving speeches meant to highlight years of violence and instability in the region.

Kashmir is divided between India and Pakistan, with separatists in Indian-administered Kashmir demanding the right of self-determination, to end with either independence or a merger with predominantly Muslim Pakistan.

About a dozen rebel groups have been fighting against Indian rule since 1989 in a region where tens of thousands of people, mostly civilians, have been killed in the conflict.

The rebel groups have largely been suppressed by Indian troops in recent years, and resistance is now principally expressed through street protests.


Al Jazeera and agencies
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