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India takes direct control in Kashmir after alliance ends

Kashmir, a contested territory between Pakistan and India, has come under direct control of India's federal government after a political alliance ended. In response, thousands of Kashmiris, who want independence or Pakistani rule, took to the streets to protest.

Dar Yasin/Associated Press
Kashmiri protesters clash with Indian police during a protest on the outskirts of Srinagar, Indian-controlled Kashmir, on June 22, 2018. At least four rebels, a counterinsurgency police official, and a civilian were killed during a gun battle in disputed Kashmir on Friday, triggering anti-India protests and clashes in which several people were injured.

India's federal government took direct control of Kashmir state Wednesday after the ruling Hindu nationalist party ended its long-troubled alliance there with a Kashmiri political party. The move instigated protests which led to further violent clashes in Kashmir.

At least four rebels, a counterinsurgency police official, and a civilian were killed during a gunbattle in disputed Kashmir on Friday, triggering anti-India protests and clashes in which several people were injured.

India takes control 

The shift to direct rule in the disputed region was approved after the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) withdrew its support Tuesday for the People's Democratic Party, following years of feuding and a deteriorating security situation. The BJP also heads the central government, and officials say Prime Minister Narendra Modi was involved in the decision to withdraw from the coalition.

Political decisions will now be made by the government in New Delhi, though day-to-day life is unlikely to change significantly for the people of Kashmir.

State elections are scheduled for 2020, but a vote could be called before then.

The coalition government was formed in 2015 after extended and difficult negotiations, since the two parties hold diametrically opposed views on many major issues, including the law that exempts Indian military personnel from criminal prosecution in the violence-wracked Himalayan region. The People's Democratic Party wants the law scrapped. The BJP supports it. The BJP has consistently advocated a tough government approach in Kashmir while the People's Democratic Party favors reconciliation and dialogue.

The coalition marked the first time that the Hindu nationalist BJP held a leadership position in the Muslim-majority region.

Mehbooba Mufti, the president of the People's Democratic Party and the state's top official, resigned after the BJP withdrew its support, paving the way for direct rule.

She told reporters that the alliance had been cobbled together "although this was against the sentiments of the people."

"Our aim was reconciliation and dialogue," she said, adding that politicians had hoped the alliance with Mr. Modi's party would "help in bringing out the state from its situation of turmoil."

Other pro-India political parties said the alliance was bound to collapse, given the two parties' different political ideologies.

"And so it has come to pass," former chief minister and opposition leader Omar Abdullah said in a tweet, blaming both parties for the security situation.

Separatists who challenge India's sovereignty over Kashmir did not immediately comment on the political developments, though in the past their leaders have consistently ridiculed pro-India politicians as collaborators.

Clashes ensue in Kashmir

On Friday, Indian government forces raided a cluster of homes on a tip that rebels were hiding in the southern Srigufwara area and they came under fire from militants, police said.

Four militants and a police official with the counterinsurgency force were killed in the fighting, said Col. Rajesh Kalia, an Indian Army spokesman.

Police said a civilian husband and wife were hit by gunfire as soldiers cornered the rebels in the couple's house. Residents said the couple was not given time by government forces to leave their home. They were evacuated to a hospital where the husband was declared dead on arrival.

Police said at least two soldiers were also wounded in the fighting.

As the fighting raged, protests and clashes broke out nearby and in other neighborhoods as residents tried to help the trapped militants escape.

Government forces fired shotgun pellets and tear gas at the stone-throwing protesters, injuring at least 20.

Authorities suspended cellphone internet service in several districts in the region, a common practice to make organizing protests more difficult, and according to the government, stop the spread of rumors.

Large anti-India protests and clashes later erupted on the outskirts of Srinagar, Kashmir's main city, as thousands gathered to participate in the funeral of one of the slain militants who was from the area.

Protesters, chanting pro-rebel slogans and demanding the end of Indian rule in Kashmir, blocked a major highway and fought pitched battles with government forces. Several people were reportedly injured in the clashes.

Also on Friday, at least nine police and paramilitary soldiers were injured when rebels attacked their patrol with a grenade and gunfire in southern Tral town, police said.

India and Pakistan have fought two wars over Kashmir, which is divided between the neighbors but claimed by both in its entirety.

Rebel groups have been fighting against Indian rule since 1989 and about 70,000 people have been killed in the armed uprising and subsequent Indian military crackdown. The rebels want Kashmir to be united under Pakistani rule or become an independent country.

Public opposition to Indian rule remains deep in Kashmir, mainly expressed through street protests. The region has seen renewed rebel attacks in recent years.

This story was reported by The Associated Press. 

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