SRINAGAR, India (AP) — Authorities have detained more than 600 Kashmiri residents in a crackdown on suspected separatists ahead of voting in a general election in Indian-controlled parts of the disputed Himalayan region, police said Tuesday.
Indian police and paramilitary officers made the arrests over the last five days in an effort to prevent any anti-India protests or violence during voting Wednesday, police Director-General Ashok Prasad said.
Indian Kashmir elects only six members of India's 543-seat Parliament. Voting is being held over several days in the restive region so security forces can better guard the polls. Results are expected May 16.
Thousands protested during voting last Thursday, when police say suspected rebels gunned down a polling official and wounded at least three soldiers. Also, clashes between Indian law enforcement officers and rock-throwing protesters left at least 12 police and paramilitary soldiers injured.
Rebels and separatist politicians have urged Kashmiris to boycott the election, which they call a "military exercise" by an overbearing New Delhi.
During this week's raids, police rounded up the region's top separatist leaders along with nearly 300 students and separatist activists from the old quarters of Indian-controlled Kashmir's main city of Srinagar, and about the same number in the districts of Budgam and Ganderbal, a police official said on customary condition of anonymity. Polling stations in all three areas will be open on Wednesday.
Police described those arrested as "stone pelters and trouble mongers," vowing that "nobody will be allowed to disrupt the electoral process," according to a statement late Monday.
Separatist leader Syed Ali Geelani, who was placed under house arrest, accused the Indian government of creating an "environment of fear and panic among the common people ... so that people will get terrified and be forced to participate in this election drama."
He said in a statement that the raids and arrests make the election "merely a military operation and a one-sided game."
Kashmir has been wracked for decades by a conflict stemming from competing claims by India and Pakistan over the territory, which is divided into regions administered separately by the neighboring countries.
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.
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