New Hindu-Muslim clashes erupt in Indian Kashmir

SRINAGAR, India (AP) — Fresh clashes erupted Saturday between groups of Hindus and Muslims in the Indian portion of Kashmir, wounding three people, police said.

The rival groups also burned some homes in Paddar, a village about 50 kilometers (40 miles) north of the town of Kishtwar, where clashes between Muslims and Hindus during Muslim holiday celebrations Friday killed at least two people and injured 24.

Police rushed to Paddar on Saturday to control the situation, a police officer said on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to talk to reporters.

Three people who sustained gunshot wounds were evacuated by helicopter to a nearby hospital, the officer said.

In Kishtwar, government forces fired warning shots Saturday to enforce a strict curfew and to push angry people back into their homes following Friday’s deadly clashes.

Jammu-Kashmir state director-general of police Ashok Prasad said the situation was tense Saturday, although no new violence was reported in Kishtwar.

Troops in armored vehicles drove through the streets of Kishtwar, where the rival groups had attacked each other Friday with firearms, stones and sticks. The town is 200 kilometers (125 miles) southeast of Srinagar, the main city in Indian-controlled Kashmir.

Scores of shops, vehicles, two hotels and one gas station were set on fire by the mobs on Friday, police said. The rioters also looted guns from a private arms shop in the area.

The trouble erupted Friday after Hindus objected to Muslims shouting pro-independence slogans during the Eid al-Fitr holiday, which caps the Muslim fasting month of Ramadan.

Anti-India feelings run deep in Kashmir, where about a dozen rebel groups have been fighting against Indian rule since 1989. More than 68,000 people, mostly civilians, have been killed.

The rebel groups have largely been suppressed by Indian troops in recent years, and resistance is now principally expressed through street protests.

One Muslim was burned to death and one Hindu died of gunshot wounds in Friday’s clashes, a police officer said on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to talk to reporters. He said that 24 people were being treated in hospitals, but that their injuries were not life threatening.

“The curfew is being strictly enforced. We are not taking any chances as the situation has the potential to have serious ramifications for the entire state,” Prasad said.

He said police were working to identify the troublemakers.

Indian authorities ordered an inquiry into the rioting and replaced the local police chief and the top civil administrator as part their efforts to restore peace in the town.

Authorities asked all members of the Village Defense Committee in the area to hand their weapons over to the police. The government provided weapons to a more than 20,000-strong semiofficial force created in the early 1990s to counter insurgency in the region. The members are mostly drawn from Hindu community.

Kashmir is divided between India and Pakistan. The countries have fought two wars over its control since they won independence from Britain in 1947.

The Indian portion of Kashmir is the only Muslim majority state in the predominantly Hindu country.

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