Security tightened for Mehta concert in Kashmir

An Indian paramilitary serviceman keeps watch during a one-day strike against the Ehaas-Kashmir music concert featuring conductor Zubin Mehta, in Srinagar on Sept. 7, 2013.

Indian troops stepped up security in disputed Kashmir's main city of Srinagar on Saturday, ahead of a concert to be held later in the day by celebrated conductor Zubin Mehta.

Organizers said the concert would go ahead despite demands by Indian Kashmiri separatists for the event to be cancelled on grounds it would allegedly legitimize Indian "state repression" in the restive region.

The concert by Mumbai-born Mehta, organized by the Indian Kashmir state tourism department and the German embassy in New Delhi, is expected draw 1,500 invited guests, including ministers and diplomats.

"As many as 25 [security] checkpoints have been erected in the city," a Kashmir state government official told AFP on condition of anonymity.

"This is a part of security measures so that law and order is maintained" during the concert by Mehta, the official said.

Mehta, 77, a former director of the Berlin Philharmonic Orchestra, will conduct the Bavarian State Orchestra in works by Beethoven, Haydn and Tchaikovsky.

Mehta said Friday the orchestra would be "playing from our hearts."

"That's all we want to do. We must never underestimate the power of inner peace that music brings," he said, according to Indian network CNN-IBN's website.

The event will be held in the sprawling Shalimar Mughal gardens under the mighty Chinar trees on the banks of the picturesque Dal Lake in Srinagar.

Separatist leader Syed Ali Geelani called for a strike in the tense Muslim-majority region on Saturday to protest the concert.

Shops, businesses, schools and colleges were shut in several Kashmir cities while buses stayed off roads as a precaution against possible violence.

Human rights groups said they plan to stage a parallel event billed Haqeet-e-Kashmir — Reality of Kashmir —but organizer Khurram Parvez said they were facing problems.

"We planned to erect a tent here but the people have not been allowed in," Parvez, a rights activist, said.

"After granting us permission for the event, it seems the state is deliberately creating hassles for the civilian movement," he added.

Organizers say they planned to highlight alleged rights violations by security troops in Indian Kashmir, where thousands of people have died since the start of a separatist insurgency in 1989.

Police, meanwhile, said three men were shot dead earlier Saturday in the town of Shopian by Indian troops.

"We are trying to ascertain their identities," an official said.

Residents described the dead men as civilians and said troops shot them as they rode past a security camp on a motorcyle.