Kashmir death toll reaches 23 in protests at killing of rebel leader

Kashmir death toll reaches 23 in protests at killing of rebel leader

A Kashmiri Muslim protester shouts slogans as an injured man is carried from an ambulance to a hospital in Srinagar, summer capital of Jammu and Kashmir. Photograph: Farooq Khan/EPA

Violent protests in Kashmir triggered by the death of a popular secessionist leader at the hands of Indian security forces continued into a third day on Monday, and the number of people killed rose to 23.

In the disputed region’s worst outbreak of civilian unrest in six years, five more people, including a teenage girl, were killed on Sunday night.

The imposition of a curfew and the disabling of internet and mobile phone networks have not been enough to stop the continuing violence. Rail services, school examinations and a large Hindu pilgrimage to a mountain cave have all been suspended because of the crisis.

The latest round of violence in Kashmir, which is claimed by both India and Pakistan, was triggered on Friday when Burhan Wani, a popular young commander of Kashmir’s largest rebel group, the Hizbul Mujahideen, was killed in a shootout with Indian forces in a forested village in the Kokernag area, south-east of Srinagar.

Independence supporters responded by taking to the streets, painting slogans on shuttered shop fronts in Srinagar, summer capital of Jammu and Kashmir, praising Wani and demanding New Delhi give up control of the former princely state that has been contested since Britain’s withdrawal from the subcontinent in 1947.

With protesters ignoring the government curfew, police have resorted to live ammunition as well as teargas in their attempts to break up the crowds.

One policeman was killed after his vehicle was pushed into a river on Sunday. More than 150 civilians and 100 members of government forces have been injured in the unrest.

Wani was part of a new generation of web-savvy militants who use social media to popularise their demands for independence among Kashmir’s youth. An estimated 100,000 people are thought to have attended his funeral on Saturday.

Wani’s regular posts and videos on Facebook showing him wielding an assault rifle helped to win him an army of loyal fans. In his most recent video, Wani appealed to police officers not to support the “Indian occupation” and to join the “freedom” struggle.

Army officials blame the social media campaign for the rapid growth in the number of militants emerging from the portion of Kashmir under Indian control.

For decades, much of the militancy in Kashmir came from Pakistan-based groups operating on the other side of the so-called line of control that splits the contested territory.

Twelve million people live in the Indian portion of Kashmir, nearly 70% of whom are Muslim.

One senior police officer described Wani’s killing as the “biggest success against militants” in recent years. Others warned that his death would only increase the appeal of violent secessionists.