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Clashes Erupt in Kashmir After Indian Troops' Fatal Shooting of Civilian

FILE - India's Central Reserve Police Force personnel stand guard alongside a road in Srinagar, May 6, 2020.
FILE - India's Central Reserve Police Force personnel stand guard alongside a road in Srinagar, May 6, 2020.

Hundreds of angry demonstrators clashed with government forces Wednesday in Indian-administered Kashmir after soldiers shot dead a young man at a checkpoint, officials and locals said.

The man's death came amid heightened tensions in the restive Muslim-majority Himalayan region after New Delhi scrapped its semiautonomous status and imposed a curfew to quell unrest.

Mehrajuddin Peer Shah, 25, was driving his car when paramilitary soldiers shot him near a checkpoint on the outskirts of Srinagar, the disputed region's main city.

Police said Shah ignored signals to stop at two checkpoints "in suspicious conditions" before troops fired at the vehicle.

Shah was taken to hospital but died from his injuries, police added in a statement.

But Shah's father, Ghulam Nabi, rejected the police's claims and said his son was shot and killed in cold blood.

"Had soldiers fired at his vehicle while fleeing any checkpoint, his car would have got bullet marks," he told reporters in Srinagar.

Witnesses told AFP the young man had come out of his car to answer questions from soldiers at the checkpoint, then was shot as he got back into the vehicle.

'We want freedom!'

Civilians in Kashmir have been shot at checkpoints in the past, but this was the first such incident in several months.

It took place under a nationwide lockdown in India to combat the spread of the coronavirus, with thousands of soldiers and police deployed at checkpoints across the territory to limit public movement.

An inquiry into the shooting has begun, Kashmir's civil administration said.

As news of Shah's death spread in the local area, hundreds of residents took to the streets to hold anti-India protests, shouting, "Go, India, go back!" and "We want freedom!"

Masked demonstrators threw stones, and government forces fired tear gas and shotgun pellets to disperse the crowd.

Mobile phone services were also cut in the area as the clashes escalated.

At least two young women suffered eye injuries from metal pellets, a doctor at the city's main hospital told AFP on condition of anonymity. Officials have barred doctors from speaking to reporters.

The protest came a week after soldiers killed a top rebel commander in the southern Kashmir valley. Authorities cut mobile internet services then, but it was restored in most areas four days later.

Rebel groups, which enjoy popular support, have fought for decades for the region's independence or its merger with Pakistan.

The fighting has left tens of thousands dead since 1989, mostly civilians. India has more than 500,000 troops in Kashmir.