SRINAGAR, India (AP) — Indian government forces fired shotguns and tear gas in India's portion of Kashmir on Wednesday to break up new protests demanding an end to Indian rule in the disputed Himalayan region, killing a young man and wounding at least 50 other people.
Suspected rebels later hurled a grenade at patrolling police and paramilitary soldiers, injuring at least 18, three critically, police said. There was no independent confirmation of the attack.
A police officer said the clashes erupted after troops tried to stop thousands of people who defied a curfew in the southern town of Pulwama.
He said the protesters hurled rocks at the troops, who fired shotguns and tear gas. The officer spoke on condition of anonymity in keeping with department policy.
However, local residents said government troops swooped in on a neighborhood in Pulwama early Wednesday and vandalized a large tent shelter put up for a pro-freedom meeting and also beat up local volunteers.
A local resident, Yousuf Bhat, said the troops indiscriminately fired shotguns. He said youths retaliated later with rocks, triggering large clashes in the town.
Among the injured civilians, eight were hospitalized in Kashmir's main city of Srinagar, where the young man died due to shotgun pellet injuries all over his body, police and doctors said.
Several protests against Indian rule were also reported in other areas of the region.
Also on Wednesday, Indian Home Minister Rajnath Singh arrived on two-day visit to the restive region to discuss ways to defuse some of the largest protests in Kashmir against Indian rule in recent years. The protests were sparked by the killing of a popular rebel commander on July 8.
Kashmiri separatist leaders, most of them either under house arrest or in police detention, have vowed to continue their struggle and refused to participate in any dialogue before New Delhi accepts Kashmir as a disputed region, releases political prisoners, revokes harsh emergency laws and announces a plan for demilitarization.
A strict curfew, a series of communication blackouts and an intensified crackdown since July 8 have failed to stop the deadly protests against Indian rule. Residents have struggled to cope with shortages of food, medicine and other necessities.
Kashmir is divided between India and Pakistan and claimed by both. Most Kashmiris want an end to Indian rule and favor independence or a merger with Pakistan. More than 68,000 people have been killed since rebel groups began fighting Indian forces in 1989 and in the subsequent Indian military crackdown.