Indian paramilitaries withdrawn from Kashmir town
Wed, Jul 01, 2009

SRINAGAR, INDIA - India withdrew paramilitary forces from a curfew-bound town in Kashmir on Wednesday in an apparent bid to defuse tensions after clashes with protesters left four people dead.

An official statement said the federal Central Reserve Police Force (CRPF) was being pulled out of Baramulla, north of Srinagar, and replaced by the armed wing of the Kashmiri police.

"The step has been taken to prevent further deaths," said a senior police officer who declined to be named.

The Muslim-majority Kashmir valley has witnessed a series of protests since the deaths last month of two young women who, local residents charge, were raped and murdered by members of the Indian security forces.

The latest protests in Baramulla and neighbouring Sopore town were triggered by the alleged harassment of a local Muslim woman by police at the weekend.

Both towns have been under curfew since Monday, after security forces fired on demonstrators in Baramulla, killing two people.

Despite the curfew, the protests have continued and another demonstrator was killed Tuesday, while a fourth died of his injuries on Wednesday.

Residents have accused the CRPF of opening fire with only minor provocation.

Thousands of anti-India protesters marched in Baramulla again on Wednesday, chanting "blood for blood" and "we want freedom".

In the nearby village of Palhalan, protesters set fire to an army ambulance and smashed the windows of other military vehicles that were part of a passing convoy.

A general strike -- called in response to the shootings -- crippled life in the summer capital Srinagar and other towns in the Kashmir valley for the second day running.

Most schools, shops and offices closed in Srinagar where police sealed off some neighbourhoods to prevent protests. --AFP

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