Forces told to shoot anyone defying Kashmir curfew

SRINAGAR, India — Indian police patrolled the streets of Kashmir on Tuesday, threatening to shoot anyone defying a round-the-clock curfew a day after 19 people died in battles between troops and protesters in the disputed region.

Still, hundreds of anti-India protesters took to the streets of the region's main city of Srinagar and more than a dozen other places in the region. Government forces responded by firing live ammunition and tear gas to disperse them, police said. At least 14 people were wounded, according to police and a resident.

The Himalayan region has been wracked by anti-India protests throughout the summer, but the chaos Monday — exacerbated by reports of a Quran desecration in the United States — was the deadliest since large-scale demonstrations began in June.

Anger at India runs deep in Kashmir. The mainly Muslim protesters reject rule by Hindu-dominated India and want independence or a merger with predominantly Muslim Pakistan.

Kashmir has been under a 24-hour curfew since Saturday evening, though it has been regularly defied. In an attempt to prevent another round of violence, police and paramilitary soldiers drove through the area's main towns, using loudspeakers to announce that curfew violators would be shot on sight.

Authorities suspended all flights to Srinagar because of security fears, a police officer said, speaking on condition of anonymity because he wasn't authorized to release the information.

Across the region, hundreds of protesters chanted "Go India, go back" and "We want freedom." They also burned effigies of Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh and a top regional official.

In Srinagar and several surrounding towns, soldiers and police fired both above crowds and into them and launched tear gas canisters to disperse the protesters, some of who were hurling rocks, according to police officials. They spoke on condition of anonymity because they were not allowed to release the information to the media. In all, police officials said at least 12 people were wounded in the face-offs, two of them critically.

In the southern town of Bijbehara, a resident said government forces fired at scores of women who alleged that the troops beat men in their homes. Two women were hospitalized, Manzoor Ahmed said. Police said they were investigating the Bijbehara incident.

In Tangmarg, which was rocked by massive protests Monday, nearly three dozen people were arrested in the wake of the violence, said a police officer, also on condition of anonymity. Town residents said about 30 men were missing since the clashes with police.

The region has been roiled for months by separatist protests that often descend into clashes with government forces. The violence has killed at least 88 people this summer — mostly teenage boys and young men in their 20s.

The anti-India protests turned into rare anti-U.S. protests Monday as reports of a Quran desecration in the United States intensified the anger of demonstrators, with activists chanting "Down with America" and burning an effigy of President Barack Obama. Protesters torched government buildings and a Christian missionary school and threw rocks at troops, who responded by firing live ammunition into crowds.

The death toll from that violence rose to 19 on Tuesday, including 18 demonstrators and one police officer.

The violence came as Indian officials debated whether to make goodwill gestures to try to ease tensions in the war-wracked region, which is divided between India and Pakistan and fully claimed by both.

On Monday, Prime Minister Manmohan Singh again voiced his willingness to talk to Kashmiris and to respond to their demands, but the government has not yet responded to a proposal by the separatists for peace talks.

Since 1989, a violent, separatist insurgency and the ensuing crackdown by Indian forces have killed an estimated 68,000 people. Although the armed rebellion is largely suppressed, the region remains heavily militarized, with checkpoints along main roads, hundreds of thousands of troops stationed here and harsh emergency laws still in force, creating further friction with the restive population.

This summer's demonstrations erupted after a police probe in June found Indian soldiers killed three Kashmiri civilians in a staged gunbattle, then claimed their victims were militants to get a reward. The army responded by suspending two officers.

In a protest following that incident, a teenager was killed after being hit in the head by a tear gas canister fired by police. Since then, the troubled Himalayan region has witnessed near-daily demonstrations and clashes.