Strikes, tight security as India’s Modi visits Kashmir

SRINAGAR, India - India's Narendra Modi faces a hostile welcome Friday as he makes his first visit as prime minister to Kashmir, where he has angered some with his apparent desire to curb the region's autonomy.

The trip by Modi, 63, has provoked a sharp reaction from influential separatist groups which have called for a general strike to protest Indian rule over the restive Himalayan area.

During election campaigning, Modi had argued for "a discussion" about Article 370 of the Indian constitution, which specifies that laws passed by the national parliament are not applied to Kashmir unless approved by the local legislature.

In May, soon after Modi took office, junior minister Jitendra Singh said that the federal government had "begun the process" of abrogating the constitutional provision that gives India's only Muslim-majority state its special status.

Modi, a hardline Hindu nationalist whose Bharatiya Janata Party secured a landslide win in polls in May, will inaugurate part of a railway line and a hydro-power station, as well as reviewing defence arrangements with top generals.

Security in the region has been increased ahead of the visit and additional checkpoints set up along highways and in the main city of Srinagar to guard against militant attacks, which remain a threat.

Kashmir is divided between India and Pakistan, which both claim the region in full but administer separate partial areas. The neighbours have fought two of their three wars over its control.

Since 1989, an armed rebellion against Indian rule by about a dozen rebel groups seeking independence for Kashmir or a merger of the territory with Pakistan has left tens of thousands dead.

The dispute with Pakistan and the insurgency has made Indian Kashmir one of the most heavily militarised zones in the world where many chafe under tight security restrictions and complain of human rights abuses.

"We have no personal enmity with him (Modi). But he is visiting as the prime minister of a country which has forcibly enslaved us and whose army kills our people systematically," senior separatist leader Syed Ali Geelani said in a statement on Tuesday.

Local media reports say that Modi, elected to jumpstart the economy and boost growth, is keen to improve trade arrangements across the Line of Control which divides Indian- and Pakistan-administered Kashmir.

One measure would be the re-instatement of a cross-border phone link which was suspended by New Delhi when the insurgency broke out.