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Nine Kashmir towns placed under curfew after clashes

Updated August 12, 2013

SRINAGAR, Aug 11: Authorities extended a curfew across nine towns in India-held Kashmir as sporadic clashes between Hindus and Muslims continued for a third day on Sunday and the death toll rose to three, police said.

Shops and buildings were torched during unrest which erupted on Friday in the town of Kishtwar, 150km of Srinagar, after Eid prayer.

Omar Abdullah, the disputed territory’s chief minister, said local authorities would do “everything possible to restore calm in the region”.

“Curfew is prevent clashes from spreading,” Ashok Prasad, the director general of police, said after reports of fresh violence emerged late on Saturday.

“We recovered a third body last night from the village of Atoli” where violence broke out on Saturday, Mr Prasad said.

Militant groups have been battling Indian forces in Kashmir since 1989, calling for independence or merger with Pakistan. The conflict has killed tens of thousands, mostly civilians.

Violence erupted in Kishtwar on Friday when several hundred Muslims staged a march and shouted slogans demanding “freedom” from Indian rule before being assaulted by Hindus.

Residents alleged that members of the Village Defence Committees — semi-official local groups drawn mostly from the Hindu community and armed by the government to fight militants — used weapons during Friday’s clashes.

The chief minister told a press conference that the government was considering various options, including a possible recall of weapons from the committees.

Yasin Malik, chairman of the pro-independence Jammu Kashmir Liberation Front, demanded that the government disarm the committees, calling them an “army without uniform”.

Shops and other businesses remained closed all weekend in Jammu in response to a shutdown called by the Hindu nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party.

Businesses also stayed shut in Srinagar in response to a strike over the clashes called by Kashmiri leader Syed Ali Geelani, who had demanded peaceful protests following what he branded as “state terrorism” after Eid prayer. —AFP