12 shot dead in Kashmir; school torched
Indian police shot 12 people dead in Kashmir on Monday as stone-throwing protesters defied curfews and torched a Christian school in an upsurge of anger stoked by the desecration of the Quran.
The death toll was the highest since a wave of anti-India demonstrations began three months ago, with 83 civilians now dead on the streets of the disputed Muslim-majority region. One policeman was also killed Monday.
Some of the worst violence was reported in Tangmarg village, 40km from the region's main town of Srinagar, where a crowd chanted anti-US and pro-Islamic slogans before burning down a missionary school.
No one was injured in the fire at Tyndale Biscoe School, but five civilians were killed when security forces opened fire on the crowd as it attempted to set fire to government buildings and a police station.
Thousands of Muslims defied curfew orders overnight and on Monday to hold protests across the Himalayan region, many shouting "Death to the US!" and "Death to Quran desecrators!", according to local residents.
Simmering anger in Kashmir was fanned by reports on Iran's state-run Press TV that a group of Christians had torn pages from the Quran outside the White House on Saturday, the anniversary of the September 11 attacks on the United States.
“We strongly condemn those involved in setting ablaze the missionary school," said hardline Kashmiri separatist Syed Ali Geelani, who has orchestrated the anti-Indian demonstrations.
"I urge the Muslims to protect the members of minority community and their religious places. We should at any cost maintain the age-old communal harmony and brotherhood for which Kashmir is known world over," he said.
Another seven protesters and one policeman were killed on Monday in various demonstrations, while about 80 people were injured, according to a tally based on reports by a number of local police officials who spoke to AFP.
They all requested anonymity because they were not authorised to speak to the media. The violence could not be independently verified as journalists were prevented from leaving their homes because of the curfew.
The police officer was the first member of the security forces to die in this summer's violence.
In New Delhi, the Indian government met on Monday evening to discuss partially lifting a 20-year-old emergency law in an attempt to break the escalating cycle of unrest in Indian Kashmir.
Officials said Prime Minister Manmohan Singh held talks with senior ministers over the possible lifting of the Armed Forces Special Powers Act in four districts of the region.
The act was passed in 1990 soon after an insurgency erupted in Kashmir against New Delhi's rule, which has since claimed 47,000 lives.
It gives Indian army and paramilitary troops sweeping powers to open fire, search houses, detain suspects and confiscate property, as well as protecting soldiers from prosecution.
Human rights groups and local politicians have long campaigned against the legislation, which they say encourages abuses by the security forces and adds to a sense of occupation in the highly militarised region.
Kashmir chief minister Omar Abdullah has urged the government to withdraw the act, but has met with strong resistance from the Indian military.
Prime Minister Singh earlier Monday told military commanders in New Delhi that the government was ready for talks over Indian Kashmir's situation.
"The youth of Kashmir are our citizens and their grievances have to be addressed," he said.
"We are willing to talk to every person or group which abjures violence, within the framework of our Constitution."
Monday's curfew in Srinagar had been called to prevent a planned separatist march to a small UN office that houses staff monitoring ceasefire violations along the Line of Control dividing Indian- and Pakistani-controlled Kashmir.
Barbed wire and iron barriers were erected to seal off the office in Srinagar, the summer capital of Indian Kashmir.
Protests broke out in several Muslim countries at the weekend after a radical Florida pastor threatened to burn the Quran on Saturday, the ninth anniversary of the September 11 attacks on the United States.
The pastor later decided not to go ahead with the plan.
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