SRINAGAR, INDIA - Massive anti-India protests and clashes erupted in Indian-controlled Kashmir Saturday after government forces in a gunbattle killed a prominent rebel commander and his associate in the disputed region.
Rebel leader Sabzar Ahmed Bhat and a fellow militant were killed after troops cordoned off the Tral area overnight following a tip that at least three rebels were hiding there, police said.
Police said the fighting was ongoing with at least one militant holed up in a house. As the violence raged, hundreds of angry residents chanting anti-India slogans marched in an attempt to help the trapped rebel escape.
Police, soldiers fire on protesters
Clashes between rock-throwing protesters and government forces erupted in different places in the area, with police and paramilitary soldiers firing shotgun pellets and tear gas to stop the protests.
As the news of the rebel leader’s killing spread in the region, thousands of people, including students, took to the streets shouting “Go India, go back” and “We want freedom.”
Many civilians were reported injured in the clashes.
Similar protests last year
Last year, similar massive protests followed by clashes roiled Kashmir following the killing of a charismatic rebel leader Burhan Wani. His death led to months of protests and security lockdown during which at least 90 people were killed and thousands injured, while hundreds among them were blinded and maimed in the firing of shotgun pellets by government forces.
Earlier Saturday, Indian soldiers killed six suspected rebels along the highly militarized de-facto border that divides the region of Kashmir between India and Pakistan, the army said.
The gunbattle erupted after a group of heavily armed militants crossed from the Pakistani-controlled part of Kashmir into the Indian-held portion in western Rampur sector, said army spokesman Col. Rajesh Kalia.
On Friday, the army said soldiers killed two suspected militants in the same area after they crossed into the Indian-administered part of Kashmir from the Pakistani-held part.
There was no independent confirmation of the latest incidents.
The nuclear-armed nations claim the territory in its entirety and have fought two wars over their rival claims to the territory.
Rebel groups have been fighting since 1989 for Kashmir’s independence or merger with neighboring Pakistan. Nearly 70,000 people have been killed in the fighting and the ensuing Indian crackdown. India has accused Pakistan of arming and training the rebels, which Pakistan denies.