Violence Erupts in Kashmir

Monday, September 13, 2010

Kashmiri protesters beat the burning remains of an effigy representing US President Barack Obama during a protest in Budgam on the outskirts of Srinagar on September 13, 2010. (Strdel/AFP/Getty Images)/Getty)

Indian forces have killed 13 protesters and wounded scores of others in confrontations across Kashmir fueled in part by reports that a Quran was desecrated in the United States. One police officer was also killed.

It was the worst violent uprising since separatist protests erupted in June. It came as Indian officials debated whether to ease harsh security regulations to try to ease tensions in the disputed territory, the Associated Press reports.

Despite a rigid curfew clamped across the region, tens of thousands of protesters took to the streets on Monday. They threw rocks, torched government buildings and chanted, "Go India, go back. We want freedom."

As they gathered, security forces shot at crowds in about a dozen different places, killing 13 people and wounding 45 others, said Kuldeep Khoda, the director-general of the state police.

Separatists had planned a new round of demonstrations following the end of the Muslim holy month of Ramadan this weekend. But the anger in the streets Monday was far greater than in previous protests this summer. They were inflamed by reports on the Iranian state-run channel Press TV that the Quran was desecrated over the weekend in the United States, Khoda said.

Although Pastor Terry Jones called off his plans to burn the Muslim holy book, the Iranian channel showed footage of a different man destroying a Quran in Tennessee.

The protesters chanted "Down with Quran desecrators," and protest leaders denounced the alleged desecration in speeches to the crowds. There were also shouts of "Down with America" and "Down with Israel" - rarely heard in Kashmir, where anger is normally only directed at India.

As the protests worsened, the station was removed from local cable networks at the insistence of Kashmiri authorities.

U.S. Ambassador Timothy Roemer said the U.S. government was "dismayed" by reports of the rioting and appealed for calm.

He also condemned any Quran desecration as "disrespectful, intolerant, divisive and unrepresentative of American values. The deliberate destruction of any holy book is an abhorrent act."

In New Delhi, Prime Minister Manmohan Singh said India was searching for a peaceful resolution to the summer of conflict.

"We are willing to talk to every person or group which abjures violence, within the framework of our constitution," Singh said in a speech to top army commanders.

Singh's statement came hours ahead of a meeting of top Cabinet ministers that is expected to decide whether to lift the Armed Forces Special Powers Act - which gives sweeping powers to security forces in Kashmir - as a goodwill gesture in parts of the territory that have been relatively peaceful.

Some government officials strongly oppose the move as premature, pointing to the flare-up in violence in the Himalayan region over the weekend as justification for intensifying the crackdown.

The region has been roiled for months by protests. The demonstrations often descend into clashes with government forces, and though Singh has called for the use of non-lethal force, troops have often resorted to firing on the crowds to quell the unrest. At least 83 people have been killed this summer, most of them teenage boys and young men in their 20s. theirĀ  deaths have fueled further protests.

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