SRINAGAR, India (AP) — Stores, businesses and schools slammed shut across Indian-controlled Kashmir on Wednesday after separatists called a strike to protest a series of assassination-style killings over the past week.
Security forces patrolled the streets of the main city, Srinagar, and buses and taxis stayed off the roads. Many government employees also stayed home.
Authorities say their initial investigations indicated that rebels killed the four victims, each with a close-range shot to the back of the head. But separatists challenging India’s sovereignty say secret government agencies were behind the killings. The murders occurred in the town of Sopore.
Police also announced a reward of 2 million rupees, or about $31,000, for the capture of two suspects who they say are members of Kashmir’s largest militant group, Hizbul Mujahideen. The group, however, has denounced the killings and blamed the government for the deaths.
On Wednesday, Kashmir’s top elected official, Mufti Mohammed Sayeed, met with top military, police and intelligence officials to review security in the wake of the killings.
Sayeed “expressed concern over the targeted killings of civilians in Sopore and emphasized taking all-out measures to avoid a recurrence of such incidents,” an official statement said.
Kashmir has a long history of brutality on both sides. Separatists say the recent murders echo the style of the “Ikhwanis,” the government-sponsored Kashmiri militias that killed hundreds of rebels and activists in the 1990s.
The killings began last week when gunmen killed a well-known separatist activist in Sopore. That was followed by the deaths of two former rebels and a separatist sympathizer.
Separatists have called for a Friday rally in Sopore.
Anti-India feelings run deep in Kashmir, the country’s only majority-Muslim state, where about a dozen rebel groups have been fighting Indian rule since 1989. About 68,000 people have been killed in the conflict. The rebel groups have largely been suppressed by India in recent years, and resistance is now principally through street protests.
Kashmir is divided between India and Pakistan but claimed by both in its entirety. Rebels want the region to merge with Pakistan or to become independent.
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