OCCUPIED SRINAGAR – Protesters and government forces in Indian-occupied Kashmir clashed for a second day on Sunday as anger over the death of an influential rebel leader boiled over, with 20 people being killed in one of the worst waves of civilian unrest to hit the region since 2010.
Another 300 people have been wounded in the violence, many of them protesters who were hit when government forces fired tear gas canisters and live ammunition at them on Saturday.
Among the 18 dead was a policeman, who drowned when angry protesters pushed an armored vehicle into a river in the southern district of Sangam on Sunday, a police officer told AFP on the condition of anonymity.
Thousands of residents of the disputed region are defying a government-imposed curfew to take to the streets in protest at the killing on Friday of militant freedom fighter Burhan Wani.
The state government, which cut off the internet and mobile phone networks in a bid to stop the protests spreading, called for calm on Sunday.
Police say protesters have set police stations on fire and thrown rocks at army camps in the south of the restive region.
“They (protesters) should not take their protests to a level where a man holding a gun is forced to open fire,” said spokesman Nayeem Akhtar.
During the chaos, there were also reports of security forces attacking hospitals and ambulances treating the wounded. “Attacking hospitals and ambulances is a crime under the international humanitarian law and Indian armed forces have been repeatedly accused of this crime in Kashmir,” said the Jammu Kashmir Coalition of Civil Society, a rights group, in a statement.
Wani, a 22-year-old commander of Kashmir’s largest pro-freedom militant group Hizbul Mujahideen (HM), was killed along with two others during a brief gun battle with government forces.
He joined the HM group at the age of just 15 and was viewed as a hero by many in Kashmir. The state’s former chief minister Omar Abdullah tweeted after his death that he had become the “new icon of Kashmir’s disaffected.”
Witnesses said tens of thousands attended his funeral on Saturday despite the curfew, chanting independence slogans and firing pistol shots in his honor.
HM is one of the several groups that for decades have been actively fighting against the half a million Indian troops deployed in the region.