Curfew grips Indian Kashmir following killings

Indian Kashmir was gripped by curfew Saturday, two days after security forces shot dead four demonstrators, triggering widespread protests across the Muslim-majority region.

The security forces fired Thursday on demonstrators protesting against the alleged desecration of the Koran during the Muslim holy month of Ramadan by Indian troopers during a search operation. Some 37 people were also injured.

Indian authorities subsequently imposed a curfew on the main areas of the Kashmir valley.

But on Friday, a further 59 people, including 49 police and federal paramilitary personnel, were hurt in clashes between government forces and protesters in dozens of places, police said.

The curfew will likely remain till at least Sunday, Indian officials said.

Separatist leaders opposed to Indian rule of the territory had called for a three-day shutdown following the killings by Border Security Force troopers.

"Restrictions on the movement of people will be there for at least three days until the strike is over," Ashok Prasad, director-general of police, told CNS, a local news agency, late Friday.

Srinagar, the summer capital of Indian Kashmir, looked like a city under seige with hundreds of police and paramilitary troops dotting the streets.

Main roads were blocked with coils of razor wire to discourage demonstrations. Banks, shops, schools and most government offices remained closed for a second straight day while university and school exams were put off indefinitely.

In a rare gesture, Indian Kashmir's council of ministers on Friday condemned the firing and ordered 500,000-rupee ($8,330) compensation payments to the families of the slain demonstrators.

Indian Home Minister Sushilkumar Shinde has also said he regretted the killings and ordered a probe into the decision to open fire.

Neighbouring Pakistan, which controls part of disputed Kashmir, reacted sharply to the alleged desecration of Koran and the killings.

"Such incidents incite violence and hurt the sentiments of Muslims not only in Pakistan but all over the world," the government said Friday, calling for a "thorough investigation" and punishment of the guilty.

Some dozen rebel groups have been fighting Indian forces since 1989 for independence or for the merger of the territory with Pakistan.

The fighting has left tens of thousand of people, mostly civilians, dead in Indian Kashmir.

The nuclear-armed South Asian rivals each hold part of the Himalayan territory but claim it in full.