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Strike shuts down main city in Indian Kashmir

Strike shuts down main city in Indian Kashmir

Thousands of police and paramilitary troops in riot gear patrolled the deserted streets of Indian Kashmir's largest city Saturday as a general strike called by separatist groups closed businesses and shut down public transportation.
The weekend strike in Srinagar was announced Friday during the largest protest against Indian rule in more than a decade, intensifying the turmoil that has roiled the Himalayan region for almost two months.
"There's been no violence reported from anywhere and we've taken adequate security measures to deal with any law-and-order problems," said Prabhakar Tripathi, a spokesman for the Central Reserve Police Force.
But violence occurred elsewhere in the region Saturday, with police firing tear gas and using bamboo batons to disperse groups of Hindus and Muslims who defied a curfew and clashed in Poonch, a town 170 miles (270 kilometers) northwest of Jammu city, senior police official K. Rajendra said.
At least 16 people, including five policemen, were injured, he said.
On Friday, hundreds of thousands of people carrying green and black protest flags thronged a main square in Srinagar for a rally called by a coalition of separatist political parties.
The massive crowd shouted anti-India and pro-independence slogans, making it impossible for separatist leaders to address the protesters. There was no reported violence.
The protest came after a three-day break in the angry rallies that have rocked the Indian portion of Kashmir in the past two months, pitting the region's Muslim majority against the Hindu minority.
The violence has left at least 34 people dead, most of them protesters shot during clashes with police and soldiers.
The crisis began in June when Muslims launched protests complaining that a government decision to transfer land to a Hindu shrine was actually a settlement plan meant to alter the religious balance in the region. After the plan was rescinded, Hindus took to the streets of Jammu, a predominantly Hindu city, demanding it be restored.
The unrest has unleashed pent-up tensions between Kashmir's Muslims and Hindus and has threatened to snap the bonds between India and its only Muslim-majority state.
There is a long history of separatist movements in Kashmir, which has been divided between India and Pakistan since 1948. Most were peaceful until 1989, when a bloody Islamic insurgency began. The insurgents want to see India's part of the region merged with Pakistan or given independence.
At least 68,000 people have been killed in the fighting.