Strike, curfew shut Kashmir as India PM visits


Associated Press

Posted on July 4, 2014 at 3:32 AM

Updated Friday, Jul 4 at 3:34 AM

SRINAGAR, India (AP) — Newly elected Prime Minister Narendra Modi on Friday made his first official trip to Indian-controlled Kashmir, where separatist groups called a strike that shut shops, businesses and schools.

Modi was expected to inaugurate a railway line and a power station, and also review security and development in the Himalayan region divided between India and Pakistan.

Kashmir is India's only Muslim majority state and Modi — whose nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party won elections in a landslide — has long had an uneasy relationship with Muslims. He was the chief minister of western Gujarat state in 2002 when communal riots there killed more than 1,000 people, most of them Muslims.

A police officer, speaking on customary condition of anonymity, said a curfew had been declared in the old quarters of Srinagar, the main city in Indian Kashmir, and residents had been asked to stay indoors. The restrictions were imposed to prevent any violent protests supported by separatist groups who oppose Indian rule, he said.

Most top separatist leaders were either put under house arrest or detained at police stations, the officer said. Kashmiri leaders are often detained or barred from leaving their homes during public protests.

Armed police and paramilitary soldiers patrolled the mostly deserted streets in Srinagar and set up additional checkpoints in the already heavy guarded city.

No violence was immediately reported.

Strikes are a common separatist tactic in the region to highlight local demands and embarrass the government.

Kashmiri separatists have been distrustful of all top Indian government officials across party lines, calling Kashmir a territory under India's occupation.

Top separatist leader Mirwaiz Umar Farooq said that he hoped that Modi would "understand the ardent political message we seek to convey" through the shutdown.

"The newly-elected government must not repeat the mistake of relying on militaristic approaches and should stop believing that time alone will resolve the Kashmir issue," he said.

Kashmiri separatists demand either independence from Hindu-majority India or a merger with Muslim-majority Pakistan. About 68,000 people have been killed since 1989 in an armed uprising and Indian military crackdown. While the armed rebellion has largely been suppressed, anti-India resentment still runs deep and is mainly expressed through street protests.