SRINAGAR, India (AP) — A protest erupted Saturday after Indian police said they killed two alleged militants and two civilians in the disputed Himalayan territory of Kashmir, while authorities maintained tight security for a classical music concert being staged amid separatist objections.
Inspector General Nalin Prabhat said police were retaliating against alleged militants who had opened fire on a police camp in Shopian district, which is about 50 kilometers (30 miles) south of Srinagar, the main city in the Indian portion of Kashmir.
Police said they recovered weapons and were working to identify the militants. They said two civilians were also killed and one person was injured in the shootout.
Hundreds of residents, disputing the police account, swarmed the streets of the main town in Shopian after the shooting. Police fired tear gas and used batons to disperse the crowds.
Adil Ahmed, a 26-year-old student shot twice in the stomach, said from a hospital that there were no militants, and that police opened fire unprovoked. He said the two accused by police of being militants were actually students riding a motorcycle to an exam center to take tests.
Meanwhile, just north of Shopian, suspected separatists hurled a grenade at a group of law enforcement officers standing outside Pulwama district hospital, police said. Nine people were injured, including two civilians, they said.
In Srinagar, paramilitary troops fired on a civilian when he failed to stop the car he was driving at a police barricade, according to police. The driver was hospitalized in critical condition.
Kashmir is divided between India and Pakistan, with separatists in Indian-held Kashmir demanding independence or a merger with predominantly Muslim Pakistan.
Srinagar was under tight security Saturday amid separatist calls for a strike to protest a Bavarian orchestra’s concert with renowned conductor Zubin Mehta. Government buses shuttled concert guests to the outdoor garden venue on the city’s outskirts.
The separatists objected that the concert served to divert attention from Kashmir’s problems.
“We have nothing against Zubin Mehta … no one is against the event itself. But it has assumed political overtures, as an attempt is being made that everything is normal and peaceful in Kashmir, which is not the case,” Mirwaiz Umer Farooq, a separatist leader, told reporters in Srinagar.
Civil society groups organized an alternative concert in central Srinagar, where they were also showing photographs and giving speeches meant to highlight past years of violence and instability in the region.
Anti-India feelings run deep in Indian-held Kashmir, where about a dozen rebel groups have been fighting against Indian rule since 1989. More than 68,000 people have been killed in the conflict.
The rebel groups have largely been suppressed by Indian troops in recent years, and resistance is now principally expressed through street protests.