Indian soldiers have opened fire on Muslim worshippers during clashes outside a mosque in Kashmir, killing a man and wounding another, police and witnesses say.
According to Indian police and local residents, the incident happened near the main mosque in the western Beerwah town, situated in the Budgam district of Indian-controlled Kashmir, where Muslim worshippers had gathered to perform Friday prayers.
New Delhi’s police accused the crowds of pelting rocks at soldiers. Police also said the violence erupted after a firecracker was hurled at the soldiers and the loud noise was mistaken for a grenade.
“Because of bang the army men thought a grenade was hurled and they retaliated,” said a police press statement.
Witnesses, however, gave a different account, saying the army was shooting indiscriminately and only a few rocks had been hurled, none of which hit the soldiers.
The victim was identified as Tanveer Ahmed Pala, a tailor in his mid-20s. He was hit by multiple bullets and lost his life on the way to the hospital
The killing triggered widespread protests in the town as hundreds carrying the slain man’s body chanted slogans against Indian rule and demanded the departure of the Indian army from Kashmir.
The protesters also called for a march by Kashmiri people to the United Nations office in Srinagar, the region’s main city.
Police fired tear gas and shotgun pellets to quell the protest, with no reports of injuries. The move prompted armed police and paramilitary soldiers in riot gear to patrol streets and block roads with razor wire and steel barricades.
Tensions are high in the Indian-administrated Kashmir region, where the Muslim-majority population stages regular protests against Indian rule.
India regularly accuses Pakistan of arming and training militants and allowing them across the restive frontier in an attempt to launch attacks on Indian forces. Pakistan strongly denies the allegations.
Kashmir has been divided between India and Pakistan but claimed in full by both since the two partitioned and gained independence from Britain in 1947. The two countries have fought three wars over the disputed territory and about 70,000 people have been killed during the fighting. Despite a ceasefire agreement that was reached in November 2003, sporadic skirmishes continue in Kashmir.
New Delhi has deployed some 500,000 soldiers to the disputed region to further boost the security of the borderline and enforce a crackdown on pro-independence demonstrations in its share of Kashmir, where anti-India sentiments are high.