Indian police and paramilitary forces have locked down Kashmir\’s summer capital to prevent anti-election demonstrations after protests flared overnight.
Troops patrolled the deserted streets of Srinagar, the urban hub of a nearly two-decade-old revolt against New Delhi\’s rule of the Muslim-majority state.
“We\’ve imposed restrictions on civilian movement to maintain law and order,” police officer Pervez Ahmed said as policemen raised barricades and stopped residents leaving their homes.
Separatists oppose elections in Kashmir, arguing that the polls legitimise Delhi\’s rule of the disputed territory, which is held in part by India and Pakistan but claimed in full by both.
The clampdown came after 20 people were hurt in anti-election protests in Srinagar, as the region prepares for further voting on Thursday in the third of five nationwide general election phases.
Two earlier stages in Hindu-dominated Jammu division of the state passed off peacefully.
The elections now move to the sensitive Muslim-majority Kashmir valley, the scene last year of major pro-independence demonstrations.
Security was tightened in southern Anantnag segment that goes to polls on Thursday, with Srinagar city itself voting on May 7.
“Foolproof security arrangements have been put in place,” police officer Rouf Ahmed said, adding all 1,500 voting stations had been put under military protection to guard against attacks.
Police also placed separatist leaders under house arrest, including hardliner Syed Ali Geelani and moderates Mirwaiz Umar Farooq and Yasin Malik.
Geelani has called for a two-day strike on Wednesday and Thursday to protest against the elections.
The strike closed down shops, schools and businesses in major Kashmir towns, police and residents said.
The boycott call has been backed by a stark warning from the most powerful militant group active in Indian Kashmir, Hizbul Mujahedeen, which has said anyone who casts a ballot will be considered a “traitor.”
Separatist passions run deep in Kashmir, where the insurgency has left more than 47,000 people dead by official count.