Gunbattles, anti-India protests in Kashmir mark deadly year

SRINAGAR, India (AP) — Anti-India protests and clashes erupted in disputed Kashmir on Saturday after a gunbattle between militants and government forces killed four rebels, police and residents said.

The fighting comes as the region is already reeling under the deadliest bloodshed in a decade in which over 500 people have been killed. According to rights groups, they include at least 269 militants, 158 members of Indian government forces and 156 civilians.

Indian troops early Saturday laid a siege around a southern village in Pulwama area on a tip that militants were hiding there, leading to an exchange of gunfire, police said. Four militants were killed, police said, adding that troops suffered no casualties.

Residents said government forces blasted one civilian house with explosives during the fighting, a common counterinsurgency tactic by Indian troops in Kashmir. At least two other houses also suffered damage.

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The fighting sparked protests after hundreds of residents tried to march to the site of the battle in an attempt to help the militants escape. Government forces fired warning shots, shotgun pellets and tear gas at the stone-throwing protesters. At least six people were reported injured.

India and Pakistan each claim the divided territory of Kashmir in its entirety. Rebels have been fighting Indian control since 1989.

Most Kashmiris support the rebel cause that the territory be united either under Pakistani rule or as an independent country.

India accuses Pakistan of arming and training the rebels, a charge Pakistan denies. Nearly 70,000 people have been killed in the uprising and the ensuing Indian military crackdown.

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