SRINAGAR, India – Assailants–on–Tuesday–killed a–prominent–separatist–leader in Indian-controlled–Kashmir, officials and residents–said, as anti-India–protests and clashes followed a gunbattle–that–killed four–rebels and an–army–commando in the disputed region.
Fighting began–early–Tuesday–after police and–soldiers cordoned–off a village on a tip that militants were–hiding–in–a–civilian–house, said army–spokesman Col. Rajesh Kalia. He said–militants ignored–calls of surrender–and fired at the soldiers and in the exchange–the four were–killed.
Police said one soldier–from India’s special forces unit–was killed and two soldiers injured in the fighting.
Local residents said soldiers–blasted the civilian–house–with explosives.
As news of the rebels’ killing–spread, hundreds of–villagers–seeking an end to Indian rule hit the streets–to–show solidarity–with–militants, sparking clashes with government–forces.
At least four–women were injured–when troops fired–bullets, shotgun–pellets and tear gas to confront stone-throwing–protesters.
Gunmen sprayed gunfire toward–Hafizullah Mir, a top political–leader of Tehreek-e-Hurriyat, a group that challenges India’s sovereignty over–Kashmir, at his home in the southern Achabal–area. Mir died on the spot while his–wife was wounded in the attack, police and–residents said.
Rebel groups and–separatist leaders called it an–assassination and blamed Indian authorities, while police called–the killing the handiwork–of militants.
Mir was released from jail last–month after two years–imprisonment in India.
Tehreek-e-Hurriyat had said recently that Mir was–receiving life threats over the telephone.
Kashmir is divided between–rivals India and Pakistan–and both claim the territory in its entirety.
Most Kashmiris–support rebel demands that the–territory is united either under Pakistani rule or as an independent country, while also participating in civilian street protests against–Indian control. In recent–years, mainly young Kashmiris have displayed open–solidarity with the rebels and–sought to protect them by engaging troops in street–clashes during military–operations.
Rebels have been fighting–Indian control since 1989. India–accuses Pakistan of arming and training–the rebels, a charge Pakistan–denies.
Nearly 70,000 people–have been killed in the–uprising and the ensuing–Indian military–crackdown.