Separatists call for 2-day strike after eight civilians killed in Indian-held Kashmir poll violence

MAMOSA Report — Eight civilians were killed and more than 200 injured in Indian-held Kashmir on Sunday when police opened fire at protesters who stormed polling stations during a by-election for a parliamentary seat.

Following the incident, a curfew-like curbs on movement of people across several parts of Indian-administered Kashmir, have been imposed by the government.

Separatist factions in Kashmir have called for a two-day strike in protest on Monday.

Their calls to boycott the poll in Srinagar, and the ensuing violence, resulted in voter turnout of only 6.5 percent on Sunday and forced 70 polling stations to shut down. Voter turnout was  26 percent less than in the last elections held in 2014 and the lowest ever participation recorded in any election in the disputed territory.

Former state chief minister Farooq Abdullah, who is contesting the Srinagar seat, slammed the government for its failure to maintain law and order.

“Elections should have been peaceful. This government has failed in giving a peaceful atmosphere for people to come and vote,” he told reporters.

According to reports, state and paramilitary police fired bullets and shotgun pellets as thousands of protesters shouting slogans against Indian rule charged into voting booths in Budgam district near the main city of Srinagar.

“Violent protests happened at many places in Budgam. Protesters damaged and snatched EVMs (electronic voting machines) at some places,” Shantmanu, the state’s chief electoral officer, told AFP.

The electoral officer said more than 100 government personnel, including police and paramilitary officers were also injured in the clashes.

Polling had to be halted in more than 70 places amid a call by top Kashmiri leaders opposed to Indian rule to boycott the by-election.

In another Kashmir-related development on Monday, the Indian government informed the Supreme Court that authorities would introduce new rubber-based bullets for security forces to deal with violent protests in the region.

The government said it has issued new “standard operating procedures” to deal with “stone pelters in the Valley”, one of which involves using rubber-based bullets before using pellet guns.

The response comes almost two weeks after the Supreme Court asked the government to consider using alternative measures other than pellet guns to deal with protests in Kashmir, citing the need for maximum restraint.

Ahead of the polling, authorities suspended internet services across the Kashmir Valley for fear of widespread protests.

Police had also detained hundreds of young people and separatist activists in the run-up to the poll, sources told AFP.

Kashmir has been divided between India and Pakistan since the end of British rule in 1947. Both claim the disputed territory in its entirety.

Rebel groups in Indian Kashmir have for decades battled troops and police, demanding independence or a merger of the territory with Pakistan.

Around 500,000 Indian soldiers are deployed in the region.

Ahead of Sunday’s polling, the Indian government had sent in 20,000 additional paramilitaries.

Armed encounters between rebels and government forces have become more frequent since the killing of a popular rebel leader by security forces last July sparked widespread unrest.

Police and army officials say dozens of local youths have joined the rebel ranks since then. At least 29 armed militants, mostly locals, have died fighting government forces this year.

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