SRINAGAR, India (AP) — Indian soldiers opened fire on protesters in the disputed region of Kashmir on Saturday, killing two young men and wounding several others, police said.
The protesters threw stones at the soldiers as their convoy was passing through a village in southern Shopian, prompting them to open fire, police said. Police said several people were wounded, one critically, and taken to hospitals. Villagers put the number of wounded at nine.
As the news of the killings spread, hundreds hit the streets chanting anti-India slogans and demanding an end to Indian rule. Rebel groups demand that Kashmir be united either under Pakistani rule or as an independent country, a view that is widespread even among civilians in the region.
Tension in Shopian was already running high after government forces killed two local rebels and a teenage boy during a gun battle Wednesday. One of the slain rebels was from the village where Saturday’s shooting took place.
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India’s military said in a statement that the soldiers came under “intense stone pelting” and the crowd caused “extensive damage and tried to set ablaze” four vehicles in the convoy. It said seven soldiers were injured and said protesters also tried to lynch an officer.
“The army was constrained to open fire in self-defense,” the statement said.
A police officer in the area, Shriram Ambarkar, said they have registered a murder case against the army and begun an investigation into the incident.
Separately, the Kashmir government also ordered a magisterial probe to be completed within 15 days.
Rights groups say such investigations rarely yield any concrete results and are generally aimed at calming public anger.
Separatist leaders who challenge India’s sovereignty over Kashmir and fight New Delhi’s rule politically called for a general strike Sunday in response to the killings.
In recent years, Kashmiris, mainly youths, have displayed open solidarity with anti-India rebels and sought to protect them by engaging troops in street clashes during military operations against the militants.
The anti-India protests and clashes have persisted despite the Indian army chief warning recently that “tough action” would be taken against stone throwers during counterinsurgency operations.
India accuses Pakistan of arming and training the rebels, which Pakistan denies. Since 1989, nearly 70,000 people have been killed in the uprising and the ensuing Indian military crackdown.