SRINAGAR (AFP) – Death toll during the protests in Indian-held Kashmir against the killing of separatist leader Burhan Wani reached 32 on fourth day (Tuesday) with 400 injured under treatment in hospitals.
Hundreds of protesters tried to storm a military airbase in India-held Kashmir on Monday, the third day of deadly clashes between government forces and demonstrators angered by the killing of a popular young separatist leader.
Police said 32 people had now died in the violence, most of them protesters killed by gunshot wounds as government forces fired live ammunition and tear gas to try to enforce a curfew imposed across the Kashmir Valley.
Thousands again defied the curfew to take to the streets on Monday. Police said several hundred protesters tried to storm an Indian Airforce base about 25 kilometres (15 miles) south of the capital Srinagar as the worst civilian unrest since 2010 spread.
“A few hundred protesters stormed the airforce base,” said a senior officer on condition of anonymity.
The demonstrations follow the killing on Friday of Burhan Wani, a 22-year-old alleged commander of Kashmir’s largest separatist group Hizbul Mujahideen (HM), during a gun battle with government forces.
HM is one of several homegrown separatist groups that have for decades been fighting around half a million Indian troops deployed in the region, calling for independence or a merger with Pakistan.
Around 400 people have been injured, including nearly 100 police, and hospitals say they are overwhelmed.
There were also reports of injured protesters being targeted — one local doctors’ association said Sunday that tear gas canisters had been fired inside a hospital emergency room.
Another group, the Jammu and Kashmir Coalition for Civil Society, alleged that police had attacked ambulances taking the wounded to hospital.
The state government has called for calm and has cut off Internet and mobile phone networks to try to stop the protests spreading.
It is the worst civilian violence to hit the restive region since 2010, when mass protests broke out against Indian rule.
Kashmir has been divided between rivals India and Pakistan since 1947, but both claim the territory in its entirety.
Tens of thousands of people, mostly civilians, have died in the fighting since 1989.
Violence has sharply declined in recent years following a major crackdown by the hundreds of thousands of forces deployed in the region.
But a recent uptick in militant attacks has galvanised frustrated young Kashmiris, many of whom deeply resent the military’s presence.
Wani joined the HM group at the age of just 15 after his brother was allegedly tortured by government forces.
His strong presence on social media where he posted pictures of himself in army fatigues and videos of his band of fighters, made him a rallying point for Kashmir’s youth and tens of thousands of mourners attended his funeral.
On Monday, separatist leaders said a shutdown protesting his death should be extended by two more days, and called a rally in the main city of Srinagar on Friday.
Also Monday, paramilitary troops evacuated 23,000 Hindu pilgrims left stranded after authorities shut the main highway.
The government has decided to suspend the annual pilgrimage to the Amarnath shrine, one of Hinduism’s most revered sites 3,800 metres (12,800 feet) above sea level.
Pakistan summons Indian High Commissioner
Earlier on Monday, the Foreign Secretary called in the Indian High Commissioner and conveyed Pakistan’s serious concerns over the recent killings of Kashmiri leader Burhan Wani and many other civilians in Indian occupied Kashmir by the Indian military and paramilitary forces.
He observed that the use of excessive force against innocent civilians protesting peacefully over extrajudicial killings, is deplorable and a blatant violation of the Right to Life, Right to Freedom of Expression and Opinion, Right to Peaceful Protest, Right to Peaceful Assembly and other fundamental rights.
The Foreign Secretary deplored the firing by Indian security forces on peaceful protesters, resulting in killings of 32 innocent people and injuries of more than 400, around 50 critically. He highlighted that such brutal use of force is not acceptable under any circumstances.
The Foreign Secretary called for fair and transparent inquiry against individuals responsible for these killings.
It was emphasized that oppressive measures cannot deter the valiant people of the Jammu and Kashmir from their demand of exercising their right to self determination in accordance with the UN Security Council resolutions.
The Foreign Secretary reiterated Pakistan’s call on the Indian government to fulfil its human rights obligations as well as its commitments under the United Nations Security Council Resolutions to resolve the Jammu and Kashmir dispute.