SRINAGAR, India — Police fired on fresh anti-India demonstrations in Kashmir on Saturday, killing three protesters and bringing the number of civilian deaths in an unprecedented wave of unrest to 102.
The new deaths came as thousands of Kashmiris poured onto the streets shouting “Go back India” and “We want freedom” as New Delhi grappled to find ways to end the escalating pro-independence demonstrations.
Women and children joined young men staging protests, defying curfews imposed across the mainly Muslim region to contain the spiralling unrest.
Police said two men died when security forces fired on stone-hurling protesters blocking a highway north of Srinagar, the main city of Kashmir, where an armed revolt has been under way against Indian rule since 1989.
“We were forced to open fire because of the violence,” a police spokesman said.
Another young man was killed by police who fired on stone-pelting demonstrators in southern Anantag town, police said.
Dozens of demonstrators were also injured in Saturday’s clashes and ferried by anxious friends and family to Kashmir’s already jammed hospitals where doctors have been working around the clock.
The almost daily popular protests are the largest since the armed revolt erupted against New Delhi’s rule and have confronted the world’s largest democracy with a deep internal crisis.
So far, 102 protesters and bystanders, mainly young men, have been killed since June according to an AFP tally, mostly by security forces firing on demonstrators who were pelting them with stones, chunks of wood and concrete.
One policeman has also died in the protests that were ignited by the police killing of a 17-year-old student on June 11 by a police teargas shell.
Kashmir’s top separatist Syed Ali Geelani has called for protesters to block police and army camps with “peaceful” sit-ins starting next Tuesday, posing a new challenge to security forces struggling to restore order.
London-based human rights group Amnesty International appealed to Indian authorities to order security forces not to use firearms against demonstrators.
“Security forces should use the minimum force necessary to defend themselves,” Amnesty said in a statement.
Domestic media reported the government, which regards Kashmir as an “integral” part of India’s national identity, is sending a 35-member all-party delegation to Kashmir on Monday to seek a way out of the cycle of violence.
Home Minister P. Chidambaram will lead the team, which aims to meet political hardliners, separatists and a cross-section of local people in a bid to defuse tensions, the Hindustan Times newspaper said.
There was no immediate confirmation by the government of the reports.
Authorities briefly relaxed the strict curfew in place since last weekend in most parts of Kashmir to allow locals to stock up on food and medicine. The curfew has prompted complaints of “collective punishment” from residents who have been confined to their homes.
While separatist militant violence in Kashmir has fallen to a 20-year low, the alienation of ordinary Kashmiris has been stoked by India’s heavy military presence and failure to address the region’s demands for self-rule.
A recent poll found two-thirds of Kashmiris wanted independence but fewer than one in 10 wanted a merger with Pakistan.
Pakistan accused India on Friday of “brutality” over its crackdown on demonstrators in the Himalayan region, which is held in part by each of the nuclear-armed neighbours but claimed in full by both.