Rights groups urge police restraint in Kashmir | india | Hindustan Times
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Rights groups urge police restraint in Kashmir

india Updated: Aug 14, 2008 11:40 IST

AP
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International human rights groups urged restraint on Thursday in Indian Kashmir after authorities in one town ordered police to shoot anyone who breaks a curfew imposed after 16 people were killed in riots across the restive Himalayan region. Paramilitary police opened fire on hundreds of rock-throwing protesters on Wednesday, wounding 34 people in the village of Dellow, just south of the region's main city of Srinagar, said police officer Abdul Gani.

At least 13 were hospitalized in critical condition, said Asif Drabu, a doctor at Srinagar's main hospital.

Violence has roiled Jammu-Kashmir since June 23 when Muslims and Hindus began a series of protests over a plan to transfer land to a Hindu shrine in India's only Muslim-majority state. The shoot-on-sight orders in Kishtwar town were issued after tens of thousands of people violated the blanket curfew to attend the funeral on Tuesday of a prominent separatist leader shot by police. Kishtwar is some 155 miles (250 kilometers) north of Jammu, the region's only majority Hindu city.

The curfew was the first imposed across the entire Kashmir region in 18 years.

Police jeeps drove through Kishtwar's deserted streets on Wednesday using loudspeakers to warn that residents would be shot if they broke the curfew, after Hindus and Muslims clashed in the town the previous day.

On Thursday, international human rights groups asked the Indian government to order troops and police to refrain from using firearms against protesters in Jammu-Kashmir unless strictly unavoidable to protect life.

"Shoot on sight orders are a clear violation of the right to life and of international standards of law enforcement," Amnesty International's Asia-Pacific Director Sam Zarifi said in a statement.

Zarifi urged the government to repeal the order. "With violence escalating, the troubled state of Jammu and Kashmir is again at the brink of catastrophe," said Meenakshi Ganguly, a senior Asia researcher at New York-based Human Rights Watch.

"To end this cycle of tragedy, the government should order security forces to act with restraint and all parties should try to settle the dispute peacefully," Ganguly said.

The protests have crystalized anti-Indian feeling in Kashmir just as Indian forces appeared to be gaining an upper hand in their nearly two decade fight against the region's separatist rebels, who seek Kashmir's independence or its merger with Pakistan. Several thousand protesters took to the streets of Srinagar again on Wednesday, attacking police posts and chanting slogans calling for revenge for the 16 deaths.

"Blood for blood" and "We want freedom," they shouted as they ransacked sandbagged police bunkers across the city. Police fired at hundreds of rock-throwing protesters in the Srinagar suburb of Fateh Kadal, while thousands of protesters clashed with police and torched a government complex in Bemina neighborhood, police said.

Dozens of protesters and police were wounded, police said, but they could not provide exact figures. Doctors at Srinagar's two main hospitals said they had received 58 injured.

On Tuesday, police firing into groups of protesting Muslims killed at least 16. Five more, including separatist leader Sheikh Abdul Aziz, were killed Monday. No new deaths were reported on Wednesday.

Kashmir is divided between India and Pakistan, which have fought two of their three wars over the region and both claim it in its entirety.

Since 1989, more than a dozen Islamic militant groups have been trying to rend Kashmir from India in fighting that has killed more than 68,000 people.