India Imposes Curfew After Kashmir Protests

Srinagar, India -- Down a 15-foot-wide alley of shuttered shops in Srinagar's Batmaloo neighborhood, stone-throwing protesters and police face off under a blazing midday sun. Most of the rocks thrown by demonstrators miss their mark, but when one lands, a loud cheer erupts. Dozens of officers, some with slingshots, answer in kind, roaring with glee whenever their projectiles strike protester flesh. While this may look like a collection of overgrown children, it's a decidedly deadly game. At least 57 protesters have been killed since early June — including two Saturday — by security forces opening fire who opted for guns over stones against unruly mobs. Hundreds more police officers, paramilitary members and civilians have been injured here in the Indian-controlled portion of Kashmir, part of a disputed region that's sparked two wars between Pakistan and India since 1947. "That was a close one," said a policeman as a rock grazed his padded leg. "They're better shots, because we have to lug these guns." Kashmir, which has witnessed more than 47,000 deaths among militants, civilians and security personnel since 1989, is experiencing its worst social unrest in a generation. "A volcano is coming up," said Bashir Siddique, an attorney who has defended 11 stone throwers. "It can anytime burst." The broader dispute over divided Kashmir has been going on for so long, with so many entrenched interests, that few see an obvious solution. This month, Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh acknowledged in a speech the pain and anger many Kashmiris feel. He pledged to organize a group of experts to explore political solutions, and he urged economic development to encourage young people to pick up jobs, not stones. Armed militancy in Kashmir, which peaked in 1990, has dropped sharply in recent years as rocks replace guns for a new generation of angry young men. That's left critics here questioning why 650,000 members of the Indian forces remain one for every eight residents.
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