SRINAGAR, India (AP) — Large anti-India protests and clashes spearheaded mostly by students erupted in disputed Kashmir on Tuesday after government forces killed two senior militants in a gunbattle and fatally shot a protester during an ensuing demonstration demanding an end to Indian rule.
The protests following the killings spread across the region and were led mostly by students, after which authorities ordered the closure of educational institutions.
Police Inspector-General Muneer Ahmed Khan said the two militants were killed after police and soldiers on a tip cordoned off southern Hakripora village early Tuesday.
Khan said the trapped militants fired at the troops, triggering a gunbattle which lasted at least two hours.
Villagers said troops blasted two civilian homes with explosives during the operation.
As the gunbattle raged, residents defied the security lockdown and clashed with government forces near the site of the fighting in an attempt to help the trapped militants escape.
A young man was killed and scores of others were injured in the clashes in the village.
Large protests and clashes against Indian rule spread to several other places across Kashmir, including the Himalayan region's main city of Srinagar, as students boycotted classes and hit the streets.
Chanting pro-rebel slogans and demanding the end of Indian rule, the students hurled rocks at government forces after being stopped outside schools and colleges.
Troops fired shotgun pellets and tear gas, leading to pitched battles, including in Srinagar's main commercial hub, where streets were strewn with rocks and broken bricks and the stench of tear gas filled the air.
Dozens more were injured in subsequent clashes.
Authorities closed all educational institutions for a day as a "precautionary measure," said Baseer Khan, a top civilian administrator.
Officials also blocked internet service in the region to stop activists from using social media to rally support against Indian rule.
Police described one of the slain militants as a top commander of the Pakistan-based militant group Lashkar-e-Taiba and identified him as Abu Dujana. India blames the group for a 2008 attack that left 166 people dead in India's commercial capital of Mumbai.
Khan, the police inspector-general, described the rebel commander's death as "good riddance to a nuisance" and said counterinsurgency operations would continue despite civilian protests.
In recent years, Kashmiris, mainly youths, have displayed open solidarity with anti-India rebels and sought to protect them by engaging troops in street clashes during military operations against the militants. The anti-India protests and clashes have persisted despite the Indian army chief warning recently that "tough action" would be taken against stone throwers during counterinsurgency operations.
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 uprising and the ensuing Indian military crackdown.
Anti-India sentiment runs deep in Kashmir's mostly Muslim population and most people support the rebels' cause against Indian rule.
India accuses 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.