SRINAGAR, India – SRINAGAR, India (AP) — Hundreds of stone-throwing protesters defied a curfew and attacked security forces in two towns in Indian-administered Kashmir on Sunday, injuring nine police officers and four soldiers, police said.
Separately, about 300 protesters stoned the home of state Education Minister Peerzada Mohammed Sayeed, who escaped injury, a police officer said. His guards fired at the demonstrators, wounding five, the officer said on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to talk to the media.
The anti-India protests erupted hours after police formally accused a key separatist leader of treason for allegedly inciting participants in a massive rally to torch government offices a day earlier.
Separatist leader Mirwaiz Umar Farooq could face the death sentence or life imprisonment if prosecutors proceed with charges against him and he is convicted. However, police have brought similar cases against other separatist leaders in the past and they have rarely been pursued.
After leading a special prayer Saturday marking the end of the Muslim fasting month of Ramadan, Farooq asked worshippers to march in Srinagar, the main city. Some protesters later attacked and burned a building housing the offices of the state police and electricity department.
Shiv Murari Sahai, a senior police officer, said police were investigating those responsible for the violence.
Farooq on Sunday denied inciting people to burn the government offices. The accusation "is a desperate attempt to dilute the political significance of thousands of Kashmiris who gathered ... demanding their right to self determination," he told The Associated Press.
Farooq is a key leader of the All Parties Hurriyat Conference, an umbrella organization of nonviolent political and religious groups. He also is the chief Muslim cleric in Indian Kashmir.
Armored vehicles patrolled the streets Sunday and security forces used steel and barbed-wire barricades to seal off public squares and neighborhoods. Scores of people defied the curfew throughout the region and clashed with government forces, police said.
In the northern town of Baramulla, scores of people joined street protests, with some attacking police and paramilitary soldiers with rocks, injuring at least nine, a police statement said. The area is about 40 miles (60 kilometers) north of Srinagar.
Protesters also attacked army vehicles with stones in Lethpora, a southern village, injuring at least four soldiers, the police officer said.
The soldiers fired in the air and entered some homes and beat up people, said Bilal Ahmed, a local resident. At least 12 people were injured, including four who were hospitalized, he said.
The mostly Muslim region has seen near-daily anti-government demonstrations and clashes between protesters and security forces over the past three months.
At least 69 people — mostly teenage boys and young men in their 20s — have been killed in the protests.
Anti-India sentiment runs deep in Kashmir, which is divided between India and Pakistan and claimed by both. Protesters reject Indian rule and want independence or a merger with predominantly Muslim Pakistan.
The current unrest is reminiscent of the late 1980s, when protests against New Delhi's rule sparked an armed conflict that has so far killed more than 68,000 people, mostly civilians.