SRINAGAR, India – Protesters clashed with government troops in several parts of Indian-controlled Kashmir on Friday, defying a government curfew imposed to quell large scale demonstrations over the killing of four villagers in the disputed Himalayan region.
Locals, responding to a call to protest by separatist groups, threw rocks as police and paramilitary soldiers tried to stop them by hitting them with batons and firing tear gas and, at one location, live ammunition, a police officer said on customary condition of anonymity.
Six police and paramilitary troops and at least two protesters were injured in the clashes.
The unrest follows the fatal shootings of four villagers by government troops on Thursday. More than 40 others were injured as troops clashed with locals protesting the alleged desecration of the Muslim holy book by border guards in a remote, mountainous village in the region.
The protesters have accused the Indian Border Security Force of tearing pages of several copies of the Quran and beating a school caretaker at a religious seminary during a search for militants Wednesday night.
Rajiv Krishna, a senior Border Security Force officer, rejected the desecration charges.
Indian Home Minister Sushilkumar Shinde ordered a probe into the incident. Rights groups say such investigations rarely lead to prosecutions and are mainly used to try to calm public anger.
The violence, which comes during the Muslim holy month of Ramadan, could trigger widespread protests in the disputed Himalayan region, with separatist groups that reject India's sovereignty over the region calling for three days of strikes and demonstrations.
In response, the government put a curfew in place. On Friday, thousands of police and paramilitary soldiers erected checkpoints and laid barbed wire on roads in Srinagar, the main city in Kashmir to try and enforce the curfew and prevent any anti-India protests. They drove through neighborhoods warning people to stay indoors and barred Friday prayers in Srinagar's main mosque.
Several other Kashmiri towns were also deserted as shops, businesses and public transportation shut down due to the curfew and strike. Authorities have postponed university examinations scheduled for Friday and blocked Internet services on cell phones in an attempt to prevent demonstrators from organizing.
Kashmir is divided between India and Pakistan, with both countries claiming the region in its entirety.
Anti-India feelings run deep in Indian-held Kashmir, where about a dozen rebel groups have been fighting against Indian rule since 1989. More than 68,000 people 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.