Indian army kills four as strike paralyses life in held Kashmir

SRINAGAR: Four men were killed in fighting with the Indian army in held Kashmir, as businesses and schools shut in the disputed region on Monday in response to a call to protest the killing of eight civilians by government forces during a weekend by-election.

Indian army spokesman Col Rajesh Kalia claimed that a gun battle erupted on Sunday night after the four militants crossed from the Pakistani side of the Himalayan territory into Keran sector of India-held Kashmir.

There was no independent confirmation of the incident. Meanwhile, a strike called by pro-freedom parties paralysed life in the occupied valley on Monday.

Widespread protests and clashes on Sunday marred a by-election for a vacant seat in India’s parliament as thousands of people attacked polling stations.

Government forces fired on rock-throwing protesters, killing eight people and wounding at least 100. Officials said that about 100 police and paramilitary soldiers were also injured in the clashes.

Only about seven per cent of the area’s nearly 1.3 million voters cast ballots on Sunday, the lowest turnout in elections held by India in the region over the past five decades, said chief electoral officer Shantmanu, who uses only one name.

A second by-election is scheduled for Wednesday in Anantnag, Shopian, Pulwama and Kulgam districts.

The pro-freedom parties consider elections in Kashmir to be illegitimate, saying that India militarily occupies the region. India has long viewed polling as an endorsement of its control over a portion of Kashmir.

Indian police on Monday imposed curfew-like curbs on movement of people across several parts of held Kashmir.

Security was beefed up, with police blocking roads with barricades and restricting movement of vehicles. Some train services were also suspended in the region, a railway official said.

India-held Kashmir witnessed deadly protests after a well-known freedom fighter was killed last year. The violence has killed 84 civilians and wounded more than 12,000 civilians and security personnel.

The state’s chief electoral officer, Shantmanu, said that “more than 200 incidents of violence” were reported on Sunday, including stone-pelting, petrol bomb attacks and setting ablaze of a polling station.

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