Protests intensify in Indian Kashmir, security forces kill five

August 16, 2016 5:55 AM EDT

Indian policemen take position behind a jeep near the site of a gunfight between Indian Security Forces and suspected militants in Srinagar, August 15, 2016. REUTERS/Danish Ismail

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By Fayaz Bukhari

SRINAGAR, India (Reuters) - Indian security forces on Tuesday killed five protesters and injured 10 in clashes that erupted after crowds angered by the killing of a separatist militant in disputed Kashmir pelted them with stones and defied a curfew, officials said.

Indian-ruled Kashmir has witnessed violent protests since July 8, when security forces killed a field commander of Pakistan-based Islamist militant group Hizbul Mujahideen who enjoyed widespread support in the Muslim-majority region.

Kashmir also saw an upsurge in violence around India's Independence Day holiday on Monday, when Prime Minister Narendra Modi said the country would not bow to terrorism and accused neighbor and archrival Pakistan of glorifying it.

A senior police official said hundreds of protesters threw stones at security forces as they tried to restore order on the streets of Budgam, a district 30 km (18 miles) south of Srinagar, the state's summer capital.

The latest casualties came as security forces opened fire with automatic rifles, a step up from their earlier use of shotguns, whose pellets are meant to incapacitate but not kill. Locals say the shotguns have inflicted severe injuries, and even blinded, hundreds of people, among them innocent bystanders.

Indian troops killed a total of seven militants on Monday in two incidents, five of them gunmen who had attempted a cross-border incursion and two more, who had attacked a Srinagar police station.

One officer died in the police station shootout.

At least 64 people have been killed and thousands injured during 39 days of protests, while schools, shops, banks and offices remain closed in much of Kashmir as paramilitary troops patrol arterial roads, residential areas and mosques.

Kashmir is at the center of a decades-old rivalry between India and Pakistan, which also rules its northern part, and backed an insurgency in the late 1980s and 1990s that Indian security forces largely crushed.

Both countries claim Kashmir in full.

New Delhi has rejected Pakistan's invitation to hold talks on the future of Jammu and Kashmir, India's northernmost state, and Modi said he had received messages of support from leaders in restive parts of Pakistan.

In a speech on Monday, Modi accused Pakistan of committing atrocities in its own province of Baluchistan, escalating a war of words that Islamabad said was intended to divert attention from the troubles in Indian-administered Kashmir.

Modi's defense minister, Manohar Parrikar, raised the temperature further on Tuesday, saying Indian troops had "sent back five terrorists yesterday".

He told a rally, "Going to Pakistan is the same as going to hell."

(Reporting by Fayaz Bukhari; Writing by Rupam Jain Editing by Douglas Busvine and Clarence Fernandez)

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