A masked protestor stands during the clashes in Srinagar on June 1, 2018. (Masrat Zahra/SOPA Images/Zuma Press/TNS)

Violence flares in Kashmir after protester is run over and killed by Indian paramilitary vehicle

MUMBAI, India — Indian forces fired tear gas Saturday at a funeral march for a man who was killed after paramilitary forces ran over him with a truck during an anti-government protest in the disputed Kashmir territory.

The violence came after photos of the incident from Friday were widely circulated and sparked renewed condemnation of India’s heavy military presence in Muslim-majority Kashmir, where government forces have long been accused of using excessive force.

In the Friday protest, demonstrators threw stones, bricks and even a bicycle at the paramilitary vehicle as it drove through Srinagar, the summer capital of Indian-controlled Kashmir. The vehicle reportedly ran over and injured three protesters, one of whom died several hours later.

When mourners staged a funeral march Saturday for the victim, identified in Indian news media as Qaiser Amin Bhat, Indian police fired at the crowds with tear gas and shotgun pellets, causing some injuries, witnesses said.

The violent scenes unfolded despite the Indian government’s declaration two weeks ago that it would stop operations against separatist insurgents in Kashmir during the ongoing Islamic holy month of Ramadan.

The unusual cease-fire came after more than a year of Indian attacks that killed 218 alleged militants in 2017, the highest one-year total since 2010, according to the South Asia Terrorism Portal.

India’s minister of home affairs, Rajnath Singh, was due to visit Kashmir next week and has expressed a willingness to meet with separatist leaders to discuss prospects for peace.

Pakistan, which has battled India for control over the Himalayan territory since both countries gained independence in 1947, responded to the Indian cease-fire by declaring a truce along their disputed border in Kashmir.

Critics said the actions by the Central Reserve Police Force, the paramilitary outfit deployed in Kashmir violated the spirit of the cease-fire.

“Cease-fire means no guns so use jeeps?” Omar Abdullah, former chief minister of the Indian state of Jammu and Kashmir, posted on Twitter.

The paramilitary force defended the driver, saying he was trying to avoid being hurt armed after a mob of protesters encircled the vehicle and attacked it with stones and bricks.

A spokesman for the force, Sanjay Sharma, said protesters “were trying to lynch people inside the vehicle and the driver was trying to get out of the situation,” the Hindustan Times reported.

Indian forces have long been accused of heavy-handed tactics to quell anti-government unrest in Kashmir. During major protests following the killing of a young militant leader in 2016, police fired live rounds and shotgun pellets into crowds, leaving hundreds with eye injuries.

Last year, Indian forces were criticized for lashing a Kashmiri man to the hood of a military vehicle as a warning to stone-throwers.

Faisal Khan, a photographer who was at the protest on Friday, said the victim’s parents were dead and that he has two younger sisters. He was buried in a graveyard in Srinagar that is dedicated to those who died fighting Indian forces, Khan said.

The senior superintendent of police in Srinagar, Imtiyaz Ismail Parray, said police reports had been filed against the driver for reckless driving and against demonstrators for attacking the vehicle.

On its official Twitter account, the police posted photos of demonstrators attacking the vehicle and said those who shared only images of the man trapped underneath were practicing “selective journalism.”

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