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Prominent separatist leader killed in Indian Kashmir

AssailantsonTuesdaykilled aprominentseparatistleader in Indian-controlledKashmir, officials and residentssaid, as anti-Indiaprotests and clashes followed a gunbattlethatkilled fourrebels and anarmycommando in the disputed region.

Fighting beganearlyTuesdayafter police andsoldiers cordonedoff a village on a tip that militants werehidinginacivilianhouse, said armyspokesman Col. Rajesh Kalia. He saidmilitants ignoredcalls of surrenderand fired at the soldiers and in the exchangethe four werekilled.

Police said one soldierfrom India’s special forces unitwas killed and two soldiers injured in the fighting.

Local residents said soldiersblasted the civilianhousewith explosives.

As news of the rebels’ killingspread, hundreds ofvillagersseeking an end to Indian rule hit the streetstoshow solidaritywithmilitants, sparking clashes with governmentforces.

At least fourwomen were injuredwhen troops firedbullets, shotgunpellets and tear gas to confront stone-throwingprotesters.

Gunmen sprayed gunfire towardHafizullah Mir, a top politicalleader of Tehreek-e-Hurriyat, a group that challenges India’s sovereignty overKashmir, at his home in the southern Achabalarea. Mir died on the spot while hiswife was wounded in the attack, police andresidents said.

Rebel groups andseparatist leaders called it anassassination and blamed Indian authorities, while police calledthe killing the handiworkof militants.

Mir was released from jail lastmonth after two yearsimprisonment in India.

Tehreek-e-Hurriyat had said recently that Mir wasreceiving life threats over the telephone.

Kashmir is divided betweenrivals India and Pakistanand both claim the territory in its entirety.

Most Kashmirissupport rebel demands that theterritory is united either under Pakistani rule or as an independent country, while also participating in civilian street protests againstIndian control. In recentyears, mainly young Kashmiris have displayed opensolidarity with the rebels andsought to protect them by engaging troops in streetclashes during militaryoperations.

Rebels have been fightingIndian control since 1989. Indiaaccuses Pakistan of arming and trainingthe rebels, a charge Pakistandenies.

Nearly 70,000 peoplehave been killed in theuprising and the ensuingIndian militarycrackdown.

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