India set to ease restrictions in Kashmir

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Satya Pal Malik. wikimedia/Government of Odisha

NEW DELHI (AFP) – Restrictions on freedom of movement in the Indian-controlled part of Kashmir will be eased after Independence Day on Thursday, the state governor has said, although phone lines and the internet will remain cut off.

Satya Pal Malik told Wednesday’s Times of India that communications will stay blocked as India’s government relaxes its clampdown since it stripped the region of its autonomy in early August.

“We don’t want to give that instrument to the enemy until things settle down,” Malik told the paper in an interview.

“In a week or 10 days, everything will be alright and we will gradually open lines of communication,” he said.

Fearing unrest, India snapped telecommunications and imposed a curfew in the part of Kashmir it controls on August 4, a day before its surprise presidential decree to strip the Muslim-majority region of its special status.

Tens of thousands of troop reinforcements have been deployed to the main city of Srinagar and other towns and villages, turning the picturesque city into a deserted warren of barbed wire and barricades.

The lockdown has not completely prevented protests, however.

According to residents around 8,000 people took part in a demonstration after Friday prayers, with security forces firing tear gas and pellet-firing shotguns to break up the rally.

On Tuesday the Indian government confirmed for the first time that clashes took place, blaming them on “miscreants” and saying its forces reacted with “restraint”.

For the Muslim festival of Eid on Monday the Himalayan region’s biggest mosque, the Jama Masjid, was ordered shut and people were only allowed to pray in smaller local mosques so that no big crowds could gather, witnesses said.

Kashmir has been divided between India and Pakistan following independence from Britain in 1947, and has been the spark for two wars between the two nuclear-armed arch-rivals.

An armed rebellion against Indian rule – supported by Pakistan, New Delhi says – has raged since 1989, claiming tens of thousands of lives, mostly civilians.

India marks Independence Day, marking the end of British rule in 1947, on Thursday, a day after Pakistan.

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