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India imposes Kashmir clampdown on Eid, rejects China criticism

Security personnel stop Muslims for questioning during a lockdown in Kashmir’s main city Srinagar © AFP / Tauseef MUSTAFA

SRINAGAR, Aug 13 – Indian troops clamped tight restrictions on mosques across Kashmir for Monday’s Eid al-Adha festival over protest fears, as Beijing warned New Delhi its actions in the restive territory were causing “regional tensions”.

The Himalayan region’s biggest mosque, the Jama Masjid, was ordered shut and people were only allowed to pray in smaller local mosques so that no big crowds could gather, witnesses said.

“Eid celebrations were peaceful today,” Kashmir police chief Dilbagh Singh said late Monday.

“There was a stray protest in Srinagar but nothing major,” he told AFP.

Regional inspector general of police Swayam Prakash Pani added that there were “only a couple of injuries” reported, adding: “Otherwise, the entire valley — the situation is normal.”

Kashmir has been in a security lockdown for eight days as the Hindu nationalist government in New Delhi seeks to snuff out opposition to its move to impose tighter central control over the Muslim-majority region.

A member of Indian security forces stands guard on a street in Srinagar during a lockdown across Muslim-majority Kashmir for the Eid al-Adha festival © AFP / Sajjad HUSSAIN

Internet and phone communications have been cut and tens of thousands of troop reinforcements have flooded the main city of Srinagar and other towns and villages in the Kashmir Valley.

“I can’t believe we are forced to be in our homes on this festival. This is the festival of joy and happiness,” resident Shanawaz Shah told AFP.

A petition against the lockdown filed by a political activist will be heard in the Supreme Court on Tuesday.

Prime Minister Narendra Modi insisted last week the decision to strip Kashmir of its autonomy was necessary for its economic development, and to stop “terrorism”.

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On Monday, India’s richest man Mukesh Ambani said at Reliance’s annual general meeting in Mumbai that his firm would heed Modi’s call for private investment in Kashmir with announcements to be made in the coming days, Indian media reported.

– ‘No new sovereign claims’ –

Vendors wait for customers with their livestock ahead of the Eid al-Adha festival during a security lockdown in Srinagar © AFP / Sajjad HUSSAIN

India’s Foreign Minister S. Jaishankar repeated his government’s stance in Beijing on Monday, after meetings with his Chinese counterpart Wang Yi.

The decision to strip Kashmir of its special autonomy status “does not produce new sovereign claims, does not change the India-Pakistan ceasefire line, and does not change the actual control line of the India-China border”, Jaishankar said.

But Wang warned the contentious move would “change the status quo of the Kashmir district and cause regional tension”.

“China opposes any unilateral actions that complicate the situation,” he added.

Map of disputed Kashmir © AFP / Jean-Michel CORNU

The move has sparked fury in Pakistan, which also claims Kashmir.

The neighbours have fought two wars over the Himalayan region, which they split after their independence in 1947.

In a series of tweets on Sunday, Pakistan Prime Minister Imran Khan compared India’s tactics in Kashmir to those of the Nazis.

Officials said Khan would visit the Pakistan-controlled part of Kashmir this week to show solidarity.

Meanwhile, global human rights activists and personalities — including Man Booker Prize-winning author Arundhati Roy, an outspoken critic of Modi — signed an open letter to the Indian leader calling for an end to the lockdown.

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Man Booker Prize-winning author Arundhati Roy (C) takes food with Kashmiri youth during a gathering to celebrate Eid al-Adha in New Delhi on August 12, 2019 © AFP / Prakash SINGH

“We strongly believe that for India to be able to continue to define itself as a democracy, it must allow public discourse and debate on these issues,” the letter published Monday said.

“This certainly cannot be achieved by blocking communications, detaining political leaders and civil society activists, and restricting movements within Jammu & Kashmir.”

– Too afraid to celebrate –

Shops in Srinagar have remained closed becaose of the security crackdown © AFP / Tauseef MUSTAFA

Residents said the security crackdown had made them too fearful to celebrate.

A sheep trader at a Srinagar market, who gave his name as Maqbool, said the number of people buying animals for traditional feasts was sharply lower and he had gone from “huge profits” last year to a “big loss” this time.

Several thousand people took part in one rally after Friday prayers that was broken up with tear gas and shotgun pellets, residents said. But authorities denied there was any protest.

Modi has won widespread backing in India for the move. But local Kashmir leaders say that stripping the region of its autonomy risks worsening the unrest.

Many local political leaders have been detained and Indian media reports said some had been taken to detention centres outside the state.


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