Sunday, December 14, 2008

Indian-Controlled Kashmir: Police Fire Bullets Against Kashmir Protesters

The New York Times
Published: December 13, 2008

PAMPORE, India (Reuters) - Government forces in Indian Kashmir fired bullets to disperse hundreds of anti-poll demonstrators during state elections in the disputed region on Saturday, killing one and injuring 25, police said.

In the fifth phase of the vote, angry protesters shouting “we want freedom” besieged a group of police and threw stones in the Koil area of Pulwama district about 35 kilometers (20 miles) south of Srinagar, Kashmir’s summer capital.

“Ten policemen were among those injured,” Bashir Ahmad, a police official, said.

Separatist leaders, most of them in jail or under house arrest, have called for a boycott of the seven-stage state polls saying India portrays voting as an endorsement of its rule over the Himalayan region.

But there has been a high turnout in the elections so far and Saturday large numbers came to the polling booths, though many voting stations in Koil and other areas were deserted.

“It is not a vote for Indian rule or against separatists. Voting is for development,” Sajjad Ahmad, a fruit grower, said. “We want better roads, schools and hospitals.”

Thousands of soldiers and policemen patrolled the streets and guarded polling stations in the strife-torn region beset by massive anti-India protests earlier this year.

Villagers dressed in long woolen robes queued outside heavily-guarded polling stations to vote in Kakpora area in Pulwama.

The turnout in eleven constituencies was more than 22 percent in the first four hours of voting, election officials said.

Authorities, buoyed by a decent turnout in the first four rounds of the vote, deployed extra troops in Srinagar, erected barricades and warned residents to stay indoors, in what amounted to an undeclared curfew to thwart planned protests.

Srinagar goes to the polls in the last phase on December 24.

Violence has declined significantly after India and Pakistan, which both claim the region in full and rule in part, began a slow-moving peace process in 2004.

Officials say more than 47,000 people have been killed since a revolt against New Delhi’s rule broke out in 1989. Separatists put the toll at 100,000.

(Reporting by Sheikh Mushtaq; Editing by Matthias Williams)

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