Kashmir tension rises as India restricts movement, regional leaders fear arrest

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kashmir-srinagarSRINAGAR/ISLAMABAD (Reuters) August 5, 2019 – The disputed region of Kashmir was thrown into further turmoil in the early hours of Monday as regional leaders said they feared being arrested and Indian officials imposed restrictions in the city of Srinagar and suspended mobile data services in parts of the state. 

A cluster bomb shell is seen along a roadside in Noseri, near the line of control (LOC), in Neelum Valley in Kashmir August 4, 2019. REUTERS/M. Saif ul Islam

Tensions in Kashmir, which is claimed by both India and Pakistan, had risen since Friday when local Indian officials issued an alert over possible militant attacks by Pakistan-based groups. Pakistan has rejected those assertions, but thousands of Indian tourists, pilgrims and workers left the region in panic over the weekend.

“As per the order there shall be no movement of public and all educational institutions shall also remain closed (in the district of Srinagar),” Indian authorities said in an order, saying the restrictions were being imposed starting at midnight.

“There will be a complete bar on holding any kind of public meetings or rallies during the period of operation of this order,” authorities said, adding restrictions would remain in effect until revoked by further orders.

The situation has been aggravated as some regional leaders have expressed fears that Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s government may try to withdraw decades-old special rights conferred on the state, including an amendment to the Indian constitution that prevents people from outside the state from buying property there.

There have also been concerns that Modi’s Hindu nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) could move to abolish Kashmir’s autonomous status, a plan that has in the past provoked warnings of a backlash in the Muslim-majority state.

The state has been under New Delhi’s rule since last year after Modi’s BJP withdrew from a coalition with a local party.

A spokesman for India’s federal home ministry in New Delhi did not immediately respond to a request for comment outside regular business hours.

On Sunday, regional parties met and vowed to safeguard the special status, saying any move to strip the privilege would amount to aggression against the people of the state.

“I believe I’m being placed under house arrest from midnight tonight & the process has already started for other mainstream leaders. No way of knowing if this is true,” Omar Abdullah, the state’s former chief minister, said on Twitter, while appealing to people to stay calm. 

Mehbooba Mufti, another regional leader and Modi’s former ally, said on Twitter it was “ironic that elected representatives like us who fought for peace are under house arrest. The world watches as people & their voices are being muzzled.”

Three local government officials told Reuters that mobile internet services in the region had been suspended.

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