Five people including a teenage girl were killed in overnight clashes between protesters and government forces in Indian Kashmir after a popular rebel leader was shot dead, police said Monday, taking the toll to 23.
Hundreds more have been wounded in the demonstrations that broke out on Saturday despite a curfew imposed across much of the Kashmir Valley, where government forces have repeatedly opened fire on protesters in the worst civilian unrest since 2010.
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Life in the valley was paralysed for a third day Monday with shops and businesses closed, and there were reports people were once again defying the curfew to come out onto the streets.
The protests follow the killing on Friday of Burhan Wani, a 22-year-old commander of Kashmir’s largest rebel group Hizbul Mujahideen (HM), during a gun battle with government forces.
HM is one of several groups that have for decades been fighting around half a million Indian troops deployed in the region, calling for independence.
Around 300 people have been injured, including nearly 100 police, and hospitals say they are overwhelmed. Most victims suffered gunshot wounds or teargas inhalation.
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.
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Another group, the Jammu and Kashmir Coalition for Civil Society, alleged that police had attacked ambulances taking the wounded to hospital.
Meanwhile police said protesters had set police stations on fire and thrown rocks at army camps in the south of the restive region.
Among the dead was a police officer who drowned when angry protesters pushed an armoured vehicle into a river on Sunday.
The state government has called for calm and has also cut off internet and mobile phone networks to try to stop the protests spreading.
“They (protesters) should not take their protests to a level where a man holding a gun is forced to open fire,” said spokesman Nayeem Akhtar on Sunday.
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.
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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 rebel group at the age of just 15 after his brother was allegedly tortured by government forces, and quickly became a rallying point for Kashmir’s youth.
The state’s former chief minister Omar Abdullah tweeted after his death that he had become the “new icon of Kashmir’s disaffected”.
Witnesses said tens of thousands attended his funeral on Saturday despite the curfew, chanting independence slogans and firing pistol shots in his honour.
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