SRINAGAR, India (AP) — Government forces fired shotgun pellets and tear gas Wednesday in the main city in Indian-controlled Kashmir as residents carried the body of a young rebel killed with two other militants during a gunbattle with Indian troops in the disputed region.
The gunfight began overnight after Indian troops raided western Radbugh village following a tip that militants were hiding there, said police Inspector-General Muneer Ahmed Khan.
He said the gunbattle lasted through the night and the three rebels were killed early Wednesday.
Authorities imposed a curfew in downtown Srinagar, anticipating protests and clashes opposing Indian rule because two of the dead men were natives of the city.
As news of the killings spread, residents defied the restrictions and threw rocks at police and paramilitary soldiers while chanting pro-rebel slogans against Indian rule in the Himalayan region.
The troops fired tear gas to quell the protests and brought more reinforcements to impose a security lockdown in the city's downtown.
Many traders shuttered their shops and businesses in non-curfew areas of the city in solidarity with the rebels.
Later Wednesday, as officials handed over the body of one of the slain men, thousands of residents of downtown Srinagar again defied the curfew and assembled for the funeral prayers and burial of the man.
As the residents began marching to the main Martyr's Graveyard in Srinagar chanting slogans such as "Go India, go back" and "We want freedom," police and paramilitary soldiers fired pellets and tear gas at them, fearing the procession could become a larger rally seeking the end of Indian rule.
Witnesses said tear gas shells landed near the mourners and pellets hit some pallbearers.
Intense clashes broke out as hundreds of angry young men hurled rocks at the troops, while another group of mourners changed their route to bury the body at a local graveyard.
Scores were reported injured, mostly with shotgun pellets. The injured included a photographer working for a local newspaper.
Thousands also participated in the funeral of the other two slain men while chanting pro-freedom slogans.
Nuclear-armed rivals India and Pakistan each administer part of Kashmir, but both claim the Himalayan territory in its entirety. Rebel groups have been fighting since 1989 for the Indian-administered portion to become independent or merge with Pakistan. Nearly 70,000 people have been killed in the fighting and in the ensuing Indian crackdown.
Anti-India sentiment runs deep in Kashmir's mostly Muslim population and most people support the rebels' cause despite a decades-long military crackdown on the armed rebellion.
India has accused Pakistan of arming and training the rebels, which Pakistan denies.
Rebel groups have largely been suppressed by Indian forces in recent years and public opposition to Indian rule is now principally expressed through street protests.