Hundreds defy restrictions to join protests in Kashmir

Kashmiri Muslims shout pro-freedom slogans at a demonstration after Friday prayers during curfew-like restrictions in Srinagar Credit: Dar Yasin/AP

Hundreds of people protested against an unprecedented security crackdown and clashed with police on Friday in Indian-controlled Kashmir, as India’s government said it was constantly reviewing the situation in the disputed region.

They said the restrictions there will be removed over the next few days.

The UN Security Council met on Jammu and Kashmir for the first time in decades, and Pakistan’s ambassador to the world body said the session showed that people in the region “may be locked up … but their voices were heard today”.

The Security Council took no action during the closed meeting, which was called for by China and Pakistan.

A heavy troop presence and a near-constant curfew and communications blackout remained in place in the Indian-controlled portion of Kashmir for a 12th day.

The government imposed the lockdown to avoid a violent reaction to its decision on August 5 to downgrade the autonomy of the Muslim-majority Kashmir region.

Both India and Pakistan claim the Himalayan region, which is divided between the nuclear-armed rivals.

The decision by the Hindu-led government in New Delhi has raised tensions with Pakistan and touched off anger in the Indian-controlled region.

Young and old demonstrators took to the streets in Srinagar, the region’s main city, after Friday prayers.

They carried green Islamic flags and signs reading Stop Genocide in Kashmir, Wake Up World.

Some threw stones and clashed with security forces, who responded with tear gas.

India’s government assured the Supreme Court on Friday that the situation in disputed Kashmir is being reviewed daily Credit: Dar Yasin/AP

Earlier in the day, a senior Indian official in Kashmir, B.V.R. Subrahmanyam, confirmed there would be some loosening of restrictions on residents, saying that landline phone services would be restored gradually beginning on Friday night and schools reopened as of Monday.

He did not announce any immediate restoration of mobile phone service, which he said could be misused by terrorist groups.

India’s Supreme Court decided to give the government more time before ruling on a petition demanding the lifting of media restrictions following its assurances that they will be eased soon, attorney Vrinda Grover told reporters.

She represents Kashmir Times editor Anuradha Bhasin, who said she was unable to publish her newspaper in Srinagar.

Mr Subrahmanyam also said that government offices had started functioning normally.

He said Friday prayers were held peacefully and life in 12 of the region’s 22 districts was almost back to normal.

Public transport will be restored gradually after evaluating the security situation, he said.

“Some preventive arrests were made in the region as a preventive measure to maintain law and order,” Mr Subrahmanyam said, though he did not say how many.

“We have prevented any loss of life or serious injuries to anyone despite concerted efforts by terrorist groups, radical groups and continuing efforts by Pakistan to destabilise the situation,” he said.

Pakistan’s ambassador to the UN, Maleeha Lodhi, called the closed-door consultations of the Security Council “the first and not the last step”.

“It will only end when justice is done to the people of Jammu and Kashmir,” Ms Lodhi said.

“This is the first time in over 50 years that this issue has been deliberated upon by the Security Council,” Ms Lodhi said.

“I think this meeting nullifies India’s claim that Jammu and Kashmir is an internal matter for India.”

India’s UN ambassador Syed Akbaruddin insisted its recent actions on Kashmir were “entirely an internal matter” with “no external ramifications”.

He rejected comments by Ms Lodhi and China’s UN ambassador Zhang Jun that Kashmir is an international dispute, insisting it is bilateral.

Mr Akbaruddin said India is committed to the 1972 Simla agreement calling for India and Pakistan to peacefully resolve Kashmir’s status, saying: “It’s now for Pakistan to make that commitment, too – stop terror to start talks.”

He dismissed a 1948 Security Council resolution promising a UN-sponsored referendum on Kashmir’s “final disposition,” saying “every new agreement overtakes the past”.

US President Donald Trump spoke to Pakistan’s prime minister Imran Khan by phone and conveyed the importance of India and Pakistan reducing tensions through bilateral dialogue, said White House spokesman Hogan Gidley.

In a tweet, Mr Khan condemned the continued clampdown and warned Mr Modi that “no nation can be defeated militarily when it rises for independence”.

Mr Modi has defended the Kashmir changes as freeing the territory from separatism, and his supporters welcomed the move.

One of the revisions allows anyone to buy land in Indian-controlled Kashmir, which some Kashmiris fear could change the region’s culture and demographics. Critics have likened it to Israeli settlements in Palestinian territories.