SRINAGAR (AP) — India’s prime minister called an emergency meeting Tuesday to discuss held Kashmir’s escalating violence amid anti-India protests that have left at least 32 people dead in clashes with authorities.
The protests erupted over the weekend after Indian troops killed the popular young leader of Kashmir’s largest separatist group fighting since the 1990s against Indian rule in the Himalayan region.
Defying curfews and paramilitary troops and riot police on patrol, crowds of stone-throwing youths rallied Tuesday in the main city of Srinagar and other places around the region. Separatist politicians, most of them under house arrest, extended a call for a general strike through Wednesday.
Police said Tuesday that the death toll from the street violence had reached 32, after three young men died overnight. Most of those killed were teens and men younger than 26 from southern occupied Kashmir, police said.
Doctors and government officials said they were struggling with a medical emergency after hundreds of civilians were admitted to hospitals with bullet and pellet wounds. At least 100 troops were also injured in the clashes.
Amid reported scuffles between law enforcement and hospital staff, authorities appealed for calm.
Prime Minister Narendra Modi, having just returned from a four-nation tour in Africa, called a high-level government meeting Tuesday morning to discuss how to calm the region and restore peace. On Monday, authorities said they sent at least 2,000 more law enforcement troops to the mountainous region, where hundreds of thousands are already deployed on a permanent basis.
Indian officials also lifted a suspension on the annual Hindu pilgrimage to a mountain cave that draws about half a million people each year, and asked that law enforcement ensure the security of the pilgrimage.
Across Kashmir on Tuesday, shops were shuttered, businesses closed and cellphone and mobile Internet services were suspended in parts of the region.
The violence is part of an ongoing conflict that dates back to 1947, when India and Pakistan gained independence but failed to agree on which country would get Kashmir. The two countries have fought two of their three wars over their rival claims to the mostly Muslim region, while each currently administers a part of it.
On the Indian side, many of the 12 million residents resent the Indian troop presence and back rebel demands for independence or a merger with neighboring Pakistan. Since the 1990s, more than 68,000 people have been killed in Indian-held Kashmir’s uprising against Indian rule and the subsequent Indian military crackdown.
In an unprecedented outpouring of support for the rebel cause, tens of thousands of Kashmiris defied a curfew to attend the funeral on Saturday for separatist leader Burhan Wani, killed Friday night by Indian forces in a gunbattle.
Wani, in his early 20s, had become the iconic face of Kashmir’s freedom fighting, using social media to rally supporters and reach out to other youths like him who had grown up while hundreds of thousands of Indian armed forces have been deployed across the region.
On Monday, Pakistani Foreign Secretary Aizaz Ahmad Chaudhry expressed concern over the killings of Wani and civilian protesters, telling the Indian high commissioner that the use of force against peaceful protesters was a human rights violation and that the killings should be investigated, according to a statement.