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Three more protesters die in Indian Kashmir

Agence France Presse - September 19, 2010

Izhar Wani, Srinagar, India Three more protesters died on Sunday in Indian-administered Kashmir, sparking a new cycle of demonstrations against rule from New Delhi and the tactics of the security forces.

The protesters died in two separate hospitals Sunday after being injured last week in clashes in the disputed Himalayan region, where protests began in June and have escalated in the past week.

Thirty-four civilians have been killed in the last seven days, with a total of 105 protesters and bystanders dead most of them young men and teenagers in three and a half months of unrest.

Hundreds poured onto the streets Sunday, holding noisy anti-India and pro-independence demonstrations, according to residents reached by phone in Baramulla, Pulwama and Anantnag, the home districts of the latest victims.

The deaths come ahead of a visit by a high-level political delegation, headed by Home Minister P. Chidambaram and set to arrive in the region on Monday, according to local media reports.

The fact-finding mission, the first major initiative by the government to try to defuse the tension, suffered a setback when the separatist leading the demonstrations, Syed Ali Geelani, said he would not cooperate.

The government has admitted it is struggling to respond to the outpouring of anger, but it is reluctant to demilitarise or relax stringent security measures that are deeply resented by Kashmiris.

India is committed to dialogue with peaceful separatists, but has ruled out granting independence and is seen as wary of granting any meaningful political autonomy.

"Today's protesters are a very different group of young men, women and, in some cases, children," Chidambaram told the Hindustan Times on Sunday ahead of his visit. "We do need to recognise this.

"The protests are certainly more widespread and there is significant alienation."

A recent poll found two-thirds of Kashmiris wanted independence.

Police said Sunday that the night had been calm and "no untoward incident has been reported" after another bloody day on Saturday, during which security forces shot three people dead and injured over a dozen.

Fifteen police and paramilitary troops were also injured during day-long clashes.

India has an estimated 500,000 troops in the small disputed territory, which is split into Indian- and Pakistani-administered parts. The Indian area has been in the grip of an separatist insurgency for the last 20 years.

Both India and Pakistan claim the mountainous region in full, and the territory has been the cause of two of the three wars the countries have fought since independence from Britain more than half a century ago.

Since protests began in June, the Indian part of Kashmir has been paralysed by demonstrations, strikes and strict curfews imposed to try to stem the unrest. Security forces have repeatedly been pelted with stones and opened fire on demonstrators. Authorities briefly relaxed a curfew on Saturday that had been in place for almost a week, allowing locals to stock up on food and medicine which had been running low.

On Sunday, police once again sealed off neighbourhoods with barbed wire and asked residents to stay indoors.

"Anyone violating the curfew will be dealt with sternly," said announcements made through loudspeakers fitted to police vehicles in the region's main town of Srinagar.

In Srinagar's main hospital, doctors said that medicines were in short supply because they curfew had made restocking impossible. Many people pleaded with security forces to be allowed to go home to fetch medicine for patients.

Pakistan accused India on Friday of "brutality" over its crackdown on demonstrators.

The criticism drew a stinging response from India, which accused Pakistan of interference in its internal affairs.

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