Kashmiri Muslim protesters clash with Indian government forces during the fourth phase of local elections in Srinagar, Indian controlled Kashmir, Tuesday, Oct. 16, 2018. India says the polls are a vital grass roots exercise to boost development and address civic issues. Political separatist leaders and armed rebel groups who challenge India's sovereignty over Kashmir have called for a boycott, saying the polls are an illegitimate exercise under military occupation. Authorities have deployed more than 40,000 additional soldiers in what is already one of world's most heavily militarised regions to guard the voting for urban and village councils. (AP Photo/Mukhtar Khan)

Fighting in Kashmir city leaves 3 combatants, civilian dead

October 17, 2018 - 2:18 am

SRINAGAR, India (AP) — Anti-India protests and clashes erupted in the main city of disputed Kashmir on Wednesday after a gunbattle between militants and government forces killed at least two suspected rebels, a civilian and a counterinsurgency police official, residents and police said.

The gunbattle began early Wednesday after troops cordoned off a neighborhood in Srinagar on a tip that some rebels were present in a civilian home, police said. The exchange of gunfire lasted for about half an hour, police said, leaving two militants, a son of the house owner and a police official dead.

Asif Nabi, another son of the house owner, said the gunbattle began shortly after Indian troops knocked on their door and took away his brother from the house. Police said the brother was a civilian interface of the militants and provided logistic support to them, according to Nabi.

The house owner suffered cardiac arrest during the raid and was hospitalized, residents and police said.

At least three soldiers were also injured in the fighting. No further information was immediately available.

Residents said they also heard loud explosions during the fighting and accused the troops of blasting at least two houses with explosives during the fighting.

As news of the fighting spread, anti-India protests and clashes erupted in several places in downtown Srinagar. Chanting slogans demanding an end to Indian rule over Kashmir, demonstrators tried to reach the site of the standoff and threw stones at police and paramilitary soldiers.

Government forces fired tear gas and shotgun pellets to stop the protesters. There were no reports of injuries.

Authorities limited communications, including internet on cellphones, as is routine during such fighting to make organizing anti-India protests difficult. They also ordered schools shut in anticipation of student protests.

At least a dozen journalists covering the fighting were beaten by counterinsurgency policemen well after the fighting ended, journalists said.

Some journalists were also injured as policemen hit them with batons and gun butts, said Asif Qureshi, a senior TV journalist. "Irony is that they beat us in presence of a senior police officer," Qureshi said. "They pointed guns at us and threatened to fire at us. Later they resorted to aerial firing so close that some of the empty cartridges hit me."

S.P. Pani, a senior police officer, said authorities would investigate the incident.

The Kashmir Press Club and several journalists' bodies condemned the incident.

"This is not the first time when media persons have been at receiving end of security agencies. Every time media persons are assaulted, the authorities at the helm churn out theories and assure action," the Kashmir Journalists Corps said in a statement. "But the promises of probe and action have always remained a mirage."

Clashes between government troops and residents had occurred Tuesday during the last phase of local council elections that had a low turnout in Muslim-dominated areas of the region. Separatists and armed rebel groups had called for a boycott, viewing the polls as an illegitimate exercise under military occupation.

India and Pakistan each administer part of Kashmir, but both claim it in its entirety.

Most Kashmiris support rebel demands that the territory be united either under Pakistani rule or as an independent country, while also participating in civilian street protests against Indian control. In recent years, mainly young Kashmiris have displayed open solidarity with the rebels and sought to protect them by engaging troops in street clashes during military operations.

Rebels have been fighting Indian control since 1989. India accuses Pakistan of arming and training the rebels, a charge Pakistan denies.

Nearly 70,000 people have been killed in the uprising and the ensuing Indian military crackdown.