Kashmir faces new restrictions

AFP, Srinagar :
Security forces imposed tough new restrictions in Indian Kashmir on Friday, fearing protests ahead of UN speeches by rival Indian and Pakistani leaders at the United Nations.
Concrete and razor wire barricades went up across Srinagar and other towns in the disputed Muslim-majority territory, which has been under lockdown since New Delhi scrapped Kashmir’s semi-autonomous status in early August.
“There were worries about big protests after Friday prayers. Similar restrictions are in place in other towns and areas,” a police officer told AFP on condition of anonymity, as he was not authorised to speak to media.
India’s Prime Minister Narendra Modi and Pakistani Prime Minister Imran Khan will speak on Kashmir’s plight at the UN General Assembly in New York later Friday.
The two countries divided Kashmir in 1947 and have since fought two wars over the territory. New Delhi’s move has sparked new tensions between the nuclear-armed neighbours.
Barricades went up across roads and bridges in Srinagar as security forces in bulletproof gear guarded deserted streets following orders to stop any public rallies. “The hospital is just a mile away from my home, but I have already walked three times the distance and am still not sure how long I need to walk to reach there,” said Mudasir Ahmad, after pleading with soldiers to let him pass at one barrier in Srinagar’s old town.
Ahmad said he wanted to visit a sick relative at the hospital. He was one of many residents on the streets who were stopped and redirected by soldiers.
Gatherings of more than four people have been banned since the August clampdown, which also saw the cutting of internet and mobile phone services.
Soldiers were posted outside Jama Masjid, Srinagar’s main mosque, which normally has tens of thousands of worshippers on a Friday but has been closed since the lockdown began.
Schools and colleges have also remained shut, along with stores and many businesses.
The main business district was largely deserted with soldiers barring entry to the area.
Many traders there have remained closed since August 5 in protest at the Indian government’s actions in the territory.
Dozens of rallies against Indian rule have been held despite the lockdown, residents said.
Hundreds of Kashmiris are being held in detention without any charge announced, including both pro-Indian and pro-separatist political leaders.
Nearly 200 people have been sent to Indian jails outside the restive Himalayan region, according to official records seen by AFP.