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Thousands defy curfew for schoolboy's funeral in Indian Kashmir

SRINAGAR: Thousands of angry demonstrators defied a curfew on Saturday in India-held Kashmir (IHK) to attend the funeral of a schoolboy whose body was found riddled with pellets, sparking clashes with security forces across the restive region.

The 11-year-old boy’s body was found late Friday in the outskirts of the main city of Srinagar, in Harwan, after security forces used pellet guns to break up protesting crowds despite the government vowing to replace the weapons.

Kashmir has been hit by months of violent protests over the killing of a young separatist commander by Indian soldiers.

Government forces fired tear gas shells Saturday to disperse stone-throwing protesters, triggering more clashes in at least half a dozen places across Srinagar and southern parts of the Himalayan valley.

“Forces responded when large crowds defied restrictions. Many were injured on both sides during the clashes that followed,” a local police officer told AFP on the condition of anonymity.

Another police official said nearly 100, mostly protesters, had been injured in the latest protests.

Uptick in violence

In the worst civilian violence to hit the restive region of Indian-held Kashmir since 2010, at least 90 Kashmiri civilians have been killed and thousands more injured in Indian-held Kashmir in clashes with security forces after the killing of a prominent Kashmiri separatist leader Burhan Wani, in a military operation on July 8.

Wani, a 22-year-old commander of Kashmir’s largest pro-independence militant group Hizbul Mujahideen (HM), was killed along with two other separatists during a gun battle with Indian government forces.

Wani 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 despite a curfew imposed by Indian authorities, chanting independence slogans.

Also read: United States to urge India for holding talks with Pakistan over Kashmir issue

Most have died in clashes between protesters and government forces who have fired tear gas and pellet guns at demonstrators.

India’s home minister police and troops would use chilli-based shells instead of ones filled with birdshot after hundreds of civilians sustained serious eye injuries in the clashes.

The metal pellets or birdshot fired from the pump-action shotguns rarely result in deaths, but can often blind victims if the fragments hit them in the eye.

Authorities have imposed a curfew across large parts of the region, with schools, shops and many banks closed.

Internet and mobile networks have also been cut off in a bid to prevent protests.

Kashmir has been divided between India and Pakistan since the two gained independence from British rule in 1947. Both claim the territory in full.

Read: ‘Indian attempts to deny illegal occupation of Kashmir is a travesty of history’

Several rebel groups have for decades fought Indian soldiers — currently numbering around 500,000 — deployed in the territory, demanding independence for the region or its merger with Pakistan.

Tens of thousands of people, mostly civilians, have died in the fighting.

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