Clashes in Kashmir as UN begins landmark meeting

SRINAGAR: Hundreds of protesters in Kashmir clashed with police on Friday as the UN Security Council began its first meeting on the territory in nearly half a century, with tensions soaring over New Delhi’s move to strip the region of its autonomy.
The meeting began as Pakistani Prime Minister Imran Khan spoke with US President Donald Trump, who last month controversially offered to mediate in the seven-decade old Kashmir issue between nuclear-armed rivals India and Pakistan.
New Delhi ended the autonomous status of the territory in the first week of August, stepping up movement restrictions and cutting off phone and Internet access to head off civil unrest, and igniting calls from Pakistan for the international community to intervene.
Police fired tear gas and pellet-firing shotguns to disperse residents who tried to march down the main road in the main city of Srinagar after Friday prayers.
Protesters hurled stones and used shop hoardings and tin sheets as improvised shields, as police shot dozens of rounds into the crowd. No injuries were reported.
“We are trying to breach the siege and march to the city centre but police is using force to stop us,” one protester said.
Friday’s Security Council meeting in New York — the first to discuss Kashmir since 1972 — came as Khan spoke to Trump by telephone to express his concerns over India’s actions, according to Pakistani Foreign Minister Shah Mehmood Qureshi.
“A good discussion took place between both leaders and it was decided that they will remain in constant contact,” he said in Islamabad.
During a meeting with Khan in July, Trump said that Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi had asked him to help mediate the Kashmir issue — a claim Delhi strenuously denied.
India has always insisted the Kashmir issue can only be resolved bilaterally with Pakistan.
Kashmir has been divided between the two countries since independence, and has been the spark for two major wars and countless clashes between the two countries.
Meanwhile, authorities will begin restoring some telephone lines in Kashmir, including in the main city of Srinagar where afternoon prayers went peacefully amid heavy security, the top state official said.
Telephone and Internet links were cut and public assembly banned in Kashmir just before New Delhi removed the decades-old autonomy the state enjoyed under the Indian constitution. The measures were aimed at preventing protests.
“You will find a lot of Srinagar functioning tomorrow morning,” Jammu and Kashmir Chief Secretary B V R Subrahmanyam told reporters.
“Over the weekend, you’ll have most of these lines functional,” he said, responding to a question about landlines.
He did not say when Internet and mobile phone services would be restored, adding that militant groups could use the latter to organise “terror actions”.
Subrahmanyam said that the immediate reports from Friday prayers were that they had gone off quite peacefully in the state. He also stressed that in the 12 days since the announcement there has not been a single loss of life.
There were some fresh protests in Soura, a tightly-packed northern Srinagar neighbourhood, after prayers on Friday.
But unlike a demonstration that pulled in many people from surrounding areas a week ago and grew to involve 10,000 people, according to local police, these protests were much smaller with only hundreds participating. They were also confined to Soura’s narrow lanes and didn’t spill out onto major roads.
Men carried posters that called for reinstating Article 370, the constitutional provision that India revoked. A group of women marching separately chanted: “We nurtured this Kashmir with our blood, this Kashmir is ours.”
Separately, hundreds of people came out to protest in the Mehjoor Nagar area of southern Srinagar following Friday prayers at a mosque. They shouted slogans. Paramilitary troops intercepted them at Mehjoor Nagar bridge, leading to violent clashes and stone-throwing by some of the protesters, according to a Reuters eyewitness.
Subrahmanyam said 12 of 22 districts in Jammu and Kashmir were functioning normally, with night time restrictions in five of the 12.
In the Kashmir valley, Subrahmanyam said schools would open after the weekend, and restrictions on movement would be lifted after a review of each area.
“It is expected that over the next few days, as the restrictions get eased, life in Jammu and Kashmir will become completely normal,” he said.
— Agencies