1 dead in Kashmir protest as India's leader promises aid

AP News
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Posted: Nov 07, 2015 10:58 AM
1 dead in Kashmir protest as India's leader promises aid

SRINAGAR, India (AP) — Protesters clashed with government troops in Indian-controlled Kashmir on Saturday, killing one demonstrator, shortly after Prime Minister Narendra Modi ended a daylong visit in which he promised $12 billion in aid to the troubled region.

The area had been in a security lockdown throughout the day to prevent anti-India protests during Modi's visit. But shortly after he left, protests erupted at several locations, and government troops fired tear gas and live bullets to disperse the crowds, a police officer said on customary condition of anonymity.

It was not immediately clear whether the protester who was killed had been hit by a tear gas shell or a bullet, the officer said. Another protester was injured in the clashes.

The news of the killing brought hundreds of people into the streets, chanting slogans including "We want freedom" and "Go India, go back."

Earlier in the day, Modi promised a $12 billion federal aid package to boost economic growth in the violence-wracked Himalayan region.

But he steered clear of discussing politics and instead promised to bring greater economic development and jobs to the region. He said he hoped the economic package would "change the fate of Kashmir."

"I want to build a new Kashmir, a powerful Kashmir," Modi, who also inaugurated a power project, said in a nearly hourlong speech that came a year after massive floods devastated the region.

Kashmiri separatist leaders rejected the aid package.

"Only providing promised right to self-determination will change the fate of Kashmir, not mere economic packages," one of the separatist leaders, Syed Ali Geelani, told reporters before police detained him as he attempted to break his house arrest and lead a march in Srinagar.

"We'll continue to fight against India's brutal military occupation," he said.

Mirwaiz Umar Farooq, another key Kashmiri separatist leader under house arrest, said Modi's speech was "nothing but full of rhetoric."

A number of rebel groups have operated in Kashmir since an insurgency erupted in 1989. More than 68,000 people have been killed in the fighting and the ensuing crackdown by Indian forces.

Residents of the Indian-held portion strongly favor independence or a merger with Pakistan. Their deep opposition to Indian rule is often expressed through street demonstrations, with Indian troops largely suppressing the armed uprising.

On Saturday, heavy security meant that the streets were deserted, except for government troops in riot gear carrying automatic weapons. Shops, businesses and schools were closed in most parts of Kashmir.

Separatists had planned a rally Saturday near the site of Modi's speech, but his address passed without any major protests. Scores of people who attempted to march earlier in the day were dispersed by government troops. Police detained at least four protesters.

Ahead of the visit, police detained separatist leaders and hundreds of their supporters to prevent protests.

Muslim-majority Kashmir is divided between Hindu-dominated India and Muslim-majority Pakistan, with both claiming the entire territory.

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This story has been corrected to show that the size of the economic aid package is $12 billion, instead of $120 billion.