SRINAGAR: Indian authorities imposed an indefinite curfew in most parts of Kashmir on Saturday, a day after government forces killed the top rebel commander in the disputed Himalayan region, officials said, describing it as a major success against rebels fighting Indian rule.
Thousands of armed police and paramilitary soldiers in riot gear fanned out across most towns and villages, including the region's main city of Srinagar.
They laid razor wire and erected steel barricades on the streets and drove through neighborhoods warning residents to stay indoors.
Burhan Wani, chief of operations of Indian Kashmir's largest rebel group Hizbul Mujahideen, was killed in fighting on Friday after Indian troops, acting on a tip, cordoned a forested village in the southern Kashmir's Kokernag area, said Police Director-General K. Rajendra.
Two rebel comrades of Wani were also killed in the gunbattle, he said. In his early 20's, Wani had become the iconic face of militancy in Kashmir over the last five years.
He was a household name and his video clips and pictures were widely circulated among young people in Kashmir.
Unlike the rebel leaders of the early 1990s, Wani did not cover his face in videos widely circulated on cellphones.
Inspector-General Syed Javaid Mujtaba Gillani described his killing as the “biggest success against militants” in recent years. As news of his death spread, tens of thousands of people took to the streets in several places in Kashmir, denouncing his killing and chanting slogans against Indian rule.
Indian officials, fearing that the killing could lead to violent protests in the already troubled region, suspended an annual Hindu pilgrimage to a mountain cave which draws about half a million people each year.
Officials also suspended cellphone services in southern parts of Kashmir and blocked mobile internet in rest of the region to prevent anti-India demonstrators from mobilizing.
Shops, businesses, schools and government offices were shut following the security lockdown and a general strike called by anti-India separatists. Authorities also postponed school and college examinations and suspended rail services.
Separatist leaders asked people to march to southern Tral town for Wani's funeral on Saturday. Rajendra, the police chief, said Wani's body was handed over to the family but warned that no one would be allowed to march to Tral. “Only locals would be allowed to participate in his funeral,” he said.
However, hundreds of protesters came out in several neighborhoods in southern Kashmir, chanting “Go India! Go back” and “We want freedom".
Most citizens in the mostly Muslim region have long resented the Indian presence, and support rebel demands for independence or merger with Pakistan.
India and Pakistan have fought three wars, two of them over control of Kashmir, since they won independence from British colonialists in 1947.
More than 68,000 people have been killed in the uprising and the subsequent Indian military crackdown.