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SRINAGAR, India – Government forces in the Indian-controlled portion of Kashmir on Wednesday removed dozens of black and Pakistani flags hoisted by residents observing a "black day" to protest the killing of a top rebel leader.
Indian forces feared fresh trouble after Pakistan called for observing a "black day" in the country to express solidarity with "Kashmiris who are facing atrocities at the hands of Indian forces."
Life remained paralyzed and streets deserted in Indian-controlled Kashmir as police and paramilitary soldiers in riot gear enforced a strict curfew for the 12th straight day Wednesday in the disputed region.
Pakistan says it provides political, moral and diplomatic support to Kashmiris and anti-India rebels who demand Kashmir's independence from India or merger with Pakistan.
Responding to Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif's appeal, Pakistanis held rallies in various parts of the country, including its portion of Kashmir to condemn "human rights violation in India's part of Kashmir.'"
In a statement, Sharif said "Kashmir cannot be accepted as an internal matter of India" as the United Nations has already declared it a disputed area. Sharif said that India had promised to the world to arrange a plebiscite in Indian-controlled Kashmir, but such a commitment was yet to be honored.
The largest street protests in recent years erupted after Indian troops killed Burhan Wani, a popular 22-year-old rebel leader on July 8, leading to clashes that left 46 people, mostly teens and young men, and a policeman dead. Nearly 2,000 civilians and about 1,600 government troops have been injured.
Virtually no information was coming out from most parts of Indian-controlled Kashmir, especially the south where most of the killings occurred, as newspapers, cellular and internet services remained suspended. Landline phone access was limited, except in Kashmir's main city of Srinagar. The information void was fueling a cycle of rumors in the restive region.
Kashmir, a predominantly Muslim region, is divided between India and Pakistan, but both claim it in its entirety. Most people in Indian-held part resent the presence of hundreds of thousands of Indian troops.
Since 1989, more than 68,000 people have been killed in the uprising against Indian rule and the subsequent Indian military crackdown. India and Pakistan have fought two wars over control of Kashmir since British colonialists left the Indian subcontinent in 1947.
India's External Affairs Ministry responded to Pakistan's call for a "black day" in solidarity with Kashmiris by saying Islamabad should stop "interfering in India's internal affairs and destabilizing the situation."
Despite round-the-clock curfew and information blackout, the protests, marked by clashes between rock-throwing Kashmiris and troops firing live ammunition, pellet guns and tear gas, have persisted. With shops closed, people were struggling to cope with shortages of food, medicines and other necessities.
Associated Press writer Munir Ahmed in Islamabad contributed to this report.
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