Kashmir separatists call for boycott of elections

Shops, businesses and government offices were closed in the Indian-controlled portion of Kashmir on Wednesday as separatists called for a strike against national elections.

Security forces flooded the streets in a show of strength in the main city of the Himalayan region.

Thousands of government forces in riot gear patrolled the streets of Srinagar, the main city in Indian Kashmir, and erected steel barricades and razor wire across roads to stop protesters from demonstrating against Thursday’s vote, said senior police official B Srinivas.

India’s national elections are being held over a month, ending on May 14.

Syed Ali Shah Geelani, a key separatist leader, called for the two-day strike against the election, which he has denounced as “farcical.” Separatists have rejected all previous elections in the disputed Himalayan region as an exercise by the Indian government to widen its control over the restive area.

Both militants and nonviolent separatists boycotted last year’s state elections in Jammu-Kashmir, but the Kashmiri people largely ignored the call.

There was no violence reported Wednesday but protesters torched at least one vehicle and clashed with government forces across Srinagar on Tuesday night. At least 13 protesters were injured, said a police officer on condition of anonymity in keeping with department policy.

Anti-India sentiment runs deep in Kashmir, where most people favor independence from India or a merger with Pakistan. Kashmir is divided between the two nuclear-armed neighbors, and both claim the region in its entirety and have fought two wars over it.

Militant separatist groups have been fighting since 1989 to end Indian rule.
More than 68 000 people, most of them civilians, have been killed in the uprising and subsequent Indian crackdown.—Sapa-AP

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