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India's PM Calls for Talks to End Deaths in Kashmir

  • Anjana Pasricha

In Indian Kashmir, four protesters were killed and nearly 35 injured as violence gripped new areas in the troubled region that has been wracked with mass anti-India protests. India's Prime Minister has called for calm and dialogue to end the crisis.

The latest violence erupted in the town of Mendhar, which had been untouched by the mass protests that have engulfed the Kashmir valley. Police opened fire after protesters tried to enter a Christian school and attacked government buildings.

In New Delhi, Prime Minister Manmohan Singh met with major political parties to build a consensus on how to handle the growing tensions in Kashmir. The meeting ended with an agreement to send a delegation to Kashmir to assess the situation. But no concrete initiatives to calm the region emerged from the marathon five-hour session.

Dialogue essential

Before opening the meeting, the prime minister said dialogue is the only way out of the crisis. But he said talks will be difficult unless peace is restored.

"We are ready for dialogue with anybody and any group that does not espouse or practice violence," said Prime Minister Singh. "We have also told the state government to restore peace and public order in order to create conditions congenial to a dialogue process."

The meeting in New Delhi also failed to reach a consensus on revoking a tough security law that gives armed forces sweeping powers to arrest, search and detain suspects in Kashmir. It has been a long-standing demand in the heavily militarized region. But some senior government ministers and the main opposition Bharatiya Janata Party oppose reducing the powers of the armed forces at a time when the protests are growing.

Young leaders

The demonstrations have mostly been led by young Kashmiris, who have hurled stones at security forces and burned or damaged government buildings. Security forces have resorted to opening fire to control the crowds, resulting in the death of at least 90 civilians in the past three months.

Prime Minister Singh accused separatist groups in the region of fanning the violence.

"I was shocked and distressed to see young men and women, even children joining the protests on the streets," said added Singh. "While some of these protests may have been impulsive or spontaneous, it cannot be denied that some of these incidents were orchestrated by certain groups."

Kashmir is a Muslim-majority region divided between India and Pakistan. An armed separatist insurgency that raged in Indian Kashmir in the 1990s cooled off after the rivals signed a peace deal in 2004. But India is confronting a fresh crisis as mass protests spiral in the region.