SRINAGAR, India – Six police were killed Friday when rebels fighting against Indian rule ambushed a police vehicle in Indian-controlled Kashmir, while two civilians were killed and several others injured in clashes that erupted during a gunbattle between rebels and government forces in the disputed region, officials and witnesses said.
Senior police officer S.P. Pani said militants sprayed gunfire at the police vehicle in the southern Achabal area. All six officers onboard were killed, he said.
No other details were immediately available.
On Thursday, two police officers were killed in two separate shootings by suspected rebels in Srinagar, the region's main city, and in the southern Kulgam area.
At the funeral of one of the slain policemen on Friday, hundreds of people chanted slogans calling for Kashmir's freedom from Indian rule.
Earlier Friday, government forces cordoned off Arwani village in the south on a tip that at least two Kashmiri rebels were hiding there, said inspector-general of police Muneer Ahmed Khan.
Fighting erupted when the militants began firing in an attempt to break through the siege, Khan said.
Villagers said soldiers blasted at least two houses with explosives.
As the fighting raged, thousands of people in the village and neighboring areas ignored the government security lockdown and marched to Arwani in an attempt to help the trapped rebels escape. They hurled rocks at the troops and chanted slogans against Indian rule.
Police said a young man and a teenage boy were killed and at least five others were wounded in the crossfire between the government forces and rebels. However, villagers dismissed the police version, saying the casualties occurred when the Indian forces fired live ammunition, shotgun pellets and tear gas to disperse the protesters.
Authorities suspended mobile internet services in Kashmir and cellphone service in some areas of southern Kashmir, fearing activists would mobilize anti-India protests in the region.
Protests against Indian rule followed by clashes were also reported in other areas of the region. Several people were reportedly injured.
In recent years, Kashmiris, mainly youths, have displayed open solidarity with anti-India rebels and sought to protect them by engaging troops in street clashes during military operations against the militants. The anti-India protests and clashes have persisted despite the Indian army chief warning recently that "tough action" would be taken against stone throwers during counterinsurgency operations.
Separatist leaders who challenge India's sovereignty over Kashmir called for a general strike on Saturday to protest the killings.
Also on Friday, Indian soldiers fired at a taxi after it ignored orders to halt at a checkpoint in northern Bandipora, Khan said. Two civilians received bullet injuries but were reported to be out of danger.
Nuclear-armed rivals India and Pakistan each administer part of Kashmir, but both claim the Himalayan territory in its entirety. Rebel groups have been fighting since 1989 for Kashmir's independence or merger with neighboring Pakistan. Nearly 70,000 people have been killed in the fighting and the ensuing Indian crackdown.
Anti-India sentiment runs deep among the region's mostly Muslim population and most people support the rebels' cause against Indian rule.
India has accused Pakistan of arming and training the rebels, which Pakistan denies.
Rebel groups have largely been suppressed by Indian forces in recent years and public opposition to Indian rule is now principally expressed through street protests.