Srinagar, India -
Authorities have imposed a curfew in most parts of Indian-controlled Kashmir on Friday following a strike call and a protest rally by separatists to protest the killing of four villagers in the Himalayan region.
Thousands of police and paramilitary soldiers erected checkpoints and laid barbed wire on roads in Srinagar, the main city in Kashmir, and were enforcing curfew to prevent any anti-India protests. Police and paramilitary soldiers drove through neighbourhoods warning people to stay indoors, said local residents in Srinagar.
The curfew and strike follow the fatal shootings of four villagers by government troops on Thursday. More than 40 others were injured as troops clashed with locals protesting the alleged desecration of the Muslim holy book by border guards in a remote, mountainous village in the region, police said.
The protesters accused the Indian Border Security Force soldiers of entering a religious seminary Wednesday night looking for Kashmiri militants in Dharam, a village 220 kilometres south of Srinagar.
The violence, which came during the Muslim holy month of Ramadaan, could trigger widespread protests in the disputed Himalayan region, with separatist groups that reject India's sovereignty over the region calling for three days of strikes and demonstrations beginning on Friday.
Separatist politicians called for the rally at Lal Chowk, the main business hub in Srinagar, after Friday prayers.
Several other Kashmiri towns were also deserted as shops, businesses and public transportation shut down due to the curfew and strike. Authorities have postponed university examinations scheduled for Friday and blocked internet services on cell phones in an attempt to prevent demonstrators from gathering on the streets.
Rajiv Krishna, a senior Border Security Force officer, rejected the desecration charges and said the troops showed restraint despite protesters trying to storm their camp.
Indian Home Minister Sushilkumar Shinde ordered a probe into the incident. Rights groups say such investigations rarely lead to prosecutions and are mainly used to try to calm public anger.
Kashmir is divided between India and Pakistan, with both countries claiming the region in its entirety.
Anti-India feelings run deep in Indian-held Kashmir, where about a dozen rebel groups have been fighting against Indian rule since 1989. More than 68 000 people have been killed in the conflict.
The rebel groups have largely been suppressed by Indian troops in recent years, and resistance is now principally expressed through street protests. - Sapa-AP