Muslims Call for Freedom in Indian Kashmir Protest; 18 Injured in Clash

Thousands of Kashmiris demanding an end to Indian rule clashed Friday with government forces who fired rubber bullets and tear gas to disperse them, leaving 18 people injured, police said.

In Srinagar, the largest city in Indian-administered Kashmir, thousands of Muslim protesters took to the streets after offering noon prayers in city mosques. They hurled rocks at police who also chased them with batons, said Nisar Ahmed, a local police officer.

Twelve protesters and six police officers were injured in the clashes, he said.

"We want freedom," the Kashmiris chanted during protests called by the Jammu-Kashmir Coordination Committee, a coalition of Muslim separatists and local business leaders.

There also were peaceful street demonstrations in Baramulla, Sopore and Anantnag, key towns in the Indian portion of Kashmir, police said.

Anti-India sentiment runs deep in Kashmir, where most people favor independence from mainly Hindu India or a merger with predominantly Muslim Pakistan.

At least 45 people have died in the unrest since August, most of them killed when Indian soldiers opened fire on Muslim demonstrators.

Kashmir is divided between India and Pakistan, which both claim the region and have fought two wars over it.

Militant separatist groups have been fighting since 1989 to end Indian rule. The uprising and subsequent Indian crackdown have killed some 68,000 people, most of them civilians.