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Four Indian soldiers killed in Kashmir gunfight

Photo: AFP

At least four Indian soldiers were killed Monday in a fierce gunfight with rebels in Kashmir just four days after a suicide bomber killed 41 paramilitaries in the troubled territory, officials said.

One soldier and one civilian were also critically wounded in the shootout as troops launched a search operation in Pulwama district where the suicide bomber struck on Thursday.

"Four soldiers were killed during the shootout and another one is injured," a senior police officer told AFP on condition of anonymity.

The official said the soldiers fired warning shots and the militants fired back, unleashing the firefight in the district 40 kilometres (25 miles) south of the Indian-administered territory's main city of Srinagar.

The official added that the rebels were believed to have escaped though a search operation was being stepped up.

Government forces launched a massive hunt for militants in the disputed region after Thursday's bombing that India has blamed on neighbouring Pakistan.

An explosives-packed van rammed a convoy transporting 2,500 security forces in the deadliest attack in Kashmir in 30 years.

Pakistan-based militant group Jaish-e-Mohammed (JeM) claimed responsibility for the bombing it said was carried out by a local militant.

Kashmir has been split between India and Pakistan since independence from Britain in 1947.

Both countries, which have fought two wars over the territory, claim all of Kashmir.

New Delhi accused Pakistan of harbouring the militant group and has vowed to retaliate to avenge the deaths.

Within hours of the attack, New Delhi withdrew trade privileges for Islamabad and ended police protection to four Kashmiri leaders.

Pakistan has denied a role in the attack, insisting the Islamist group is a proscribed "terrorist organisation".

JeM is one of the several armed militant groups fighting Indian troops in Kashmir, which have seen a resurgence since 2016 after a popular rebel commander's death triggered months of mass street protests.

Anger
The shock attack has fuelled anger across India with demonstrations and TV news channels demanding military action against Pakistan.

More protests have been planned Monday, with trade unions calling for a nationwide shutdown by shops and small businesses.
Protesters in New Delhi on Sunday burned effigies of Pakistani and JeM leaders while attacks on Kashmiris were reported in different cities.

A Kashmiri man was beaten by a mob in New Delhi that accused him of chanting anti-India slogans. He was later detained by police.

A curfew remained in force for a fourth day in Jammu city, in the Hindu-majority part of Kashmir, where mobs attacked and set fire to properties belonging to Kashmiri Muslims.

Mobile internet has been shut down across the state.

Kashmir is the world's most militarised zone with some 500,000 Indian troops deployed to fight a rebellion that broke out in 1989. Scores of armed groups are now involved.

Tens of thousands of people, mainly civilians, have died in the conflict. Violence has spiked since 2016 with almost 600 killed last year, the highest toll in a decade.

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