SRINAGAR, India (AP) — Four suspected rebels were killed in fighting with the Indian army in Kashmir, as businesses and schools shut in the disputed region on Monday in response to a separatists’ call to protest the killing of eight civilians by government forces during a weekend by-election, officials said.
Army spokesman Col. Rajesh Kalia said a gunbattle erupted Sunday night after the four militants crossed from Pakistani side of the Himalayan territory into the Indian-held portion of Kashmir in Keran sector.
There was no independent confirmation of the incident.
Meanwhile, a strike called by separatists who challenge India’s sovereignty over Kashmir paralyzed life in the Kashmir Valley on Monday.
Widespread protests and clashes on Sunday marred a by-election for a vacant seat in India’s Parliament as thousands of people attacked polling stations.
Government forces fired on rock-throwing protesters, killing eight people and wounding at least 100. Officials said about 100 police and paramilitary soldiers were also injured in the clashes.
Only about 7 percent of the area’s nearly 1.3 million voters cast ballots on Sunday, the lowest turnout in elections held by India in the region over the past five decades, said chief electoral officer Shantmanu, who uses only one name.
A second by-election is scheduled for Wednesday in Anantnag, Shopian, Pulwama and Kulgam districts.
Anti-India separatists consider elections in Kashmir to be illegitimate, saying that India militarily occupies the region. India has long viewed polling as an endorsement of its control over a portion of Kashmir.
Rivals India and Pakistan each administer part of Kashmir, but both claim the Himalayan territory in its entirety.
Since 1989, rebel groups have been fighting for independence from India or its merger with Pakistan. About 70,000 people have been killed in the rebel uprising and a subsequent Indian military crackdown.
Rebel groups have largely been suppressed by Indian forces in recent years. However, public opposition to Indian rule remains deep and is now principally expressed through street protests marked by youths hurling stones at government forces.