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Troops patrol India-administered Kashmir on ‘black day’ anniversary

Hundreds of extra police deployed in disputed Kashmir region to quell any anti-India protests marking two years of annexation by New Delhi.

A supporter of the Peoples Democratic Party holds up a poster during a protest demanding the restoration of Kashmir’s autonomy, in Srinagar on August 5, 2021. (Danish Ismail / Reuters)

Hundreds of extra police and troops have been deployed in Srinagar, the main city of India-administered Kashmir as separatist groups called for a general strike to mark a “black day” on the second anniversary of New Delhi imposing direct rule.

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Government forces placed steel barricades and razor wire across many roads, bridges and intersections and set up checkpoints in anticipation of anti-India protests.

Some shops and businesses remained shut in Srinagar, the region’s main city, while police and soldiers checked vehicles and frisked pedestrians.

In Srinagar’s main business centre, men escorted by police used iron rods and bricks to break locks on some shuttered shops.

Kashmir has been divided between India and Pakistan since the end of British colonial rule in 1947, with both claiming the territory in full. Fighting in the Indian-controlled part has left tens of thousands, mostly civilians, dead.

Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s government scrapped the region’s partial autonomy on August 5, 2019, and split it into two federal territories, arresting thousands in a massive security operation and communications blackout that lasted months.

General strike

Top pro-freedom leader Syed Ali Geelani, 90, called for a general strike to mark a “black day” to protest “India’s naked aggression”, in a Twitter statement by his Pakistan-based representative Syed Abdullah Geelani.

The call was supported by several smaller separatist groups who also challenge India’s rule of Kashmir.

Police initially termed the Twitter handle and statement as “fake”.

But the ailing Geelani, under house arrest for most of the last 13 years, issued his first video in two years on Wednesday, confirming the statement via his “nominated special representative”.

Forcing shops to open

A day earlier, Indian police in disputed Kashmir had allegedly warned traders and businesses against observing a shutdown.

Many shopkeepers and businessmen, without wishing to be named, told AFP that police had threatened them.

Local reporters also said they saw officers breaking locks on shutters and asking shopkeepers to open.

“I was recording a video of shuttered shops when police officers arrived and took my photos while I was working and accused myself and journalists of instigating a shutdown,” photojournalist Umer Asif told an AFP reporter.

Scores behind bars

Former Kashmir chief minister Mehbooba Mufti, along with dozens of other local politicians, spent months incarcerated after being arrested in the 2019 clampdown.

Scores of people remain behind bars either in Kashmir or elsewhere, held under controversial legislation that allows them to be detained for up to two years without charge.

Mufti issued an angry statement on Wednesday slamming New Delhi’s actions as “daylight robbery” of people’s constitutional rights.

“When unbridled oppression is unleashed & gross injustice heaped there is no other choice but to resist to exist,” she tweeted.

Government minister Jitendra Singh said in an editorial in the Indian Express daily that Kashmir was now moving toward “deepening democracy, fulfilling people’s aspirations, (and) increasing economic growth”.

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