Troops kill 7 civilians as protest turns bloody in Kashmir

Troops kill 7 civilians as protest turns bloody in Kashmir
An Indian paramilitary soldier fires tear gas shells on Kashmiri protesters during a clash in Srinagar, Indian controlled Kashmir, Saturday, Dec. 15, 2018. At least seven civilians were killed and nearly two dozens injured when government forces fired at anti-India protesters in disputed Kashmir following a gunbattle that left three rebels and a soldier dead on Saturday, police and residents said. (AP Photo/Mukhtar Khan) (Source: Mukhtar Khan)

SRINAGAR, India (AP) — Indian forces who were exchanging fire with insurgents in disputed Kashmir on Saturday fatally shot at least seven civilians when large crowds descended on the site of the gunbattle in support of the militants, police and residents said.

Residents accused troops of directly spraying gunfire into the crowds. Police said in a statement that they regretted the killings but that the protesters had come "dangerously close" to the fighting.

Separatists who challenge India's sovereignty over Kashmir said the killings were part of India's state policy and called for three days of mourning and a general shutdown in Kashmir. Mirwaiz Umar Farooq, a separatist leader, said in a tweet that India's government should "stop this inhumanity as it will not achieve anything except further rebellion and hatred."

The violence started as troops surrounded a village in the southern Pulwama area on a tip that militants were hiding there. Gunmen jumped out of a civilian home and took positions in an apple orchard while firing at soldiers and counterinsurgency police, said Muneer Ahmed Khan, a top police officer.

Three rebels and a soldier were killed and another soldier wounded in the exchange of gunfire, he said.

Kashmiri villagers comfort the grieving father of Murtaza, a 14-year-old civilian, during his funeral procession in Pulwama, south of Srinagar, Indian controlled Kashmir, Saturday, Dec. 15, 2018. At least seven civilians were killed and nearly two dozens injured when government forces fired at anti-India protesters in disputed Kashmir following a gunbattle that left three rebels and a soldier dead on Saturday, police and residents said. (AP Photo/ Dar Yasin)
Kashmiri villagers comfort the grieving father of Murtaza, a 14-year-old civilian, during his funeral procession in Pulwama, south of Srinagar, Indian controlled Kashmir, Saturday, Dec. 15, 2018. At least seven civilians were killed and nearly two dozens injured when government forces fired at anti-India protesters in disputed Kashmir following a gunbattle that left three rebels and a soldier dead on Saturday, police and residents said. (AP Photo/ Dar Yasin) (Source: Dar Yasin)

At the same time, hundreds of people chanting pro-militant slogans and calling for an end to Indian rule over the Himalayan region began throwing stones at troops to help the militants escape. Government forces fired bullets, shotgun pellets and tear gas to stop them, killing seven and injuring at least 40 others, nine of them critically, police said.

Kashmiri villagers offer prayers near the body of Murtaza, a 14-year-old civilian, in Pulwama, south of Srinagar, Indian controlled Kashmir, Saturday, Dec. 15, 2018. At least seven civilians were killed and nearly two dozens injured when government forces fired at anti-India protesters in disputed Kashmir following a gunbattle that left three rebels and a soldier dead on Saturday, police and residents said. (AP Photo/ Dar Yasin)
Kashmiri villagers offer prayers near the body of Murtaza, a 14-year-old civilian, in Pulwama, south of Srinagar, Indian controlled Kashmir, Saturday, Dec. 15, 2018. At least seven civilians were killed and nearly two dozens injured when government forces fired at anti-India protesters in disputed Kashmir following a gunbattle that left three rebels and a soldier dead on Saturday, police and residents said. (AP Photo/ Dar Yasin) (Source: Dar Yasin)

Khan said large crowds came from multiple directions while attacking security deployments in the area.

Kashmiri protesters clash with Indian paramilitary soldiers in Srinagar, Indian controlled Kashmir, Saturday, Dec. 15, 2018. At least seven civilians were killed and nearly two dozens injured when government forces fired at anti-India protesters in disputed Kashmir following a gunbattle that left three rebels and a soldier dead on Saturday, police and residents said. (AP Photo/Mukhtar Khan)
Kashmiri protesters clash with Indian paramilitary soldiers in Srinagar, Indian controlled Kashmir, Saturday, Dec. 15, 2018. At least seven civilians were killed and nearly two dozens injured when government forces fired at anti-India protesters in disputed Kashmir following a gunbattle that left three rebels and a soldier dead on Saturday, police and residents said. (AP Photo/Mukhtar Khan) (Source: Mukhtar Khan)

Residents said troops fired indiscriminately at the protesters.

A kashmiri protester throw stones at Indian paramilitary soldiers during a clash in Srinagar, Indian controlled Kashmir, Saturday, Dec. 15, 2018. At least seven civilians were killed and nearly two dozens injured when government forces fired at anti-India protesters in disputed Kashmir following a gunbattle that left three rebels and a soldier dead on Saturday, police and residents said. (AP Photo/Mukhtar Khan)
A kashmiri protester throw stones at Indian paramilitary soldiers during a clash in Srinagar, Indian controlled Kashmir, Saturday, Dec. 15, 2018. At least seven civilians were killed and nearly two dozens injured when government forces fired at anti-India protesters in disputed Kashmir following a gunbattle that left three rebels and a soldier dead on Saturday, police and residents said. (AP Photo/Mukhtar Khan) (Source: Mukhtar Khan)

"They fired at us as if they were practicing their guns," said Shabir Ahmed, who accompanied some of the injured to a hospital in Srinagar, the region's main city.

Kashmiri villagers shout freedom slogans during the funeral procession of Murtaza, a 14-year-old civilian, in Pulwama, south of Srinagar, Indian controlled Kashmir, Saturday, Dec. 15, 2018. At least seven civilians were killed and nearly two dozens injured when government forces fired at anti-India protesters in disputed Kashmir following a gunbattle that left three rebels and a soldier dead on Saturday, police and residents said. (AP Photo/ Dar Yasin)
Kashmiri villagers shout freedom slogans during the funeral procession of Murtaza, a 14-year-old civilian, in Pulwama, south of Srinagar, Indian controlled Kashmir, Saturday, Dec. 15, 2018. At least seven civilians were killed and nearly two dozens injured when government forces fired at anti-India protesters in disputed Kashmir following a gunbattle that left three rebels and a soldier dead on Saturday, police and residents said. (AP Photo/ Dar Yasin) (Source: Dar Yasin)

Two police officials, speaking on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to talk to the media, said the civilians died in the anti-India protests. However, residents said at least two civilians, including a teenage boy, were killed away from the gunbattle.

Kashmiri villagers carry body of Zahoor Ahmed, a soldier turned rebel, during his funeral in Pulwama, south of Srinagar, Indian controlled Kashmir, Saturday, Dec. 15, 2018. At least seven civilians were killed and nearly two dozens injured when government forces fired at anti-India protesters in disputed Kashmir following a gunbattle that left three rebels and a soldier dead on Saturday, police and residents said. (AP Photo/ Dar Yasin)
Kashmiri villagers carry body of Zahoor Ahmed, a soldier turned rebel, during his funeral in Pulwama, south of Srinagar, Indian controlled Kashmir, Saturday, Dec. 15, 2018. At least seven civilians were killed and nearly two dozens injured when government forces fired at anti-India protesters in disputed Kashmir following a gunbattle that left three rebels and a soldier dead on Saturday, police and residents said. (AP Photo/ Dar Yasin) (Source: Dar Yasin)

Soldiers in an armored vehicle fired at a small group of civilians away from the battle site, and as the vehicle jammed on a roadside, the troops fatally shot one of them, said Ubaid Ahmed.

Kashmiri villagers shout freedom slogans during the funeral procession of Murtaza, a 14-year-old civilian, in Pulwama, south of Srinagar, Indian controlled Kashmir, Saturday, Dec. 15, 2018. At least seven civilians were killed and nearly two dozens injured when government forces fired at anti-India protesters in disputed Kashmir following a gunbattle that left three rebels and a soldier dead on Saturday, police and residents said. (AP Photo/ Dar Yasin)
Kashmiri villagers shout freedom slogans during the funeral procession of Murtaza, a 14-year-old civilian, in Pulwama, south of Srinagar, Indian controlled Kashmir, Saturday, Dec. 15, 2018. At least seven civilians were killed and nearly two dozens injured when government forces fired at anti-India protesters in disputed Kashmir following a gunbattle that left three rebels and a soldier dead on Saturday, police and residents said. (AP Photo/ Dar Yasin) (Source: Dar Yasin)

Saturday's killings triggered more anti-India protests and clashes at several places in the region, including Srinagar. No one was reported injured in those clashes.

Kashmiri villagers watch the funeral of Zahoor Ahmed, a soldier turned rebel, in Pulwama, south of Srinagar, Indian controlled Kashmir, Saturday, Dec. 15, 2018. At least seven civilians were killed and nearly two dozens injured when government forces fired at anti-India protesters in disputed Kashmir following a gunbattle that left three rebels and a soldier dead on Saturday, police and residents said. (AP Photo/ Dar Yasin)
Kashmiri villagers watch the funeral of Zahoor Ahmed, a soldier turned rebel, in Pulwama, south of Srinagar, Indian controlled Kashmir, Saturday, Dec. 15, 2018. At least seven civilians were killed and nearly two dozens injured when government forces fired at anti-India protesters in disputed Kashmir following a gunbattle that left three rebels and a soldier dead on Saturday, police and residents said. (AP Photo/ Dar Yasin) (Source: Dar Yasin)

In recent years, mainly young Kashmiris have displayed open solidarity with the rebels and sought to protect them by engaging troops in street clashes during India's counterinsurgency operations despite repeated warnings from the Indian authorities.

Kashmiri villagers watch the funeral of Zahoor Ahmed, a soldier turned rebel, in Pulwama south of Srinagar, Indian controlled Kashmir, Saturday, Dec. 15, 2018. At least seven civilians were killed and nearly two dozens injured when government forces fired at anti-India protesters in disputed Kashmir following a gunbattle that left three rebels and a soldier dead on Saturday, police and residents said. (AP Photo/ Dar Yasin)
Kashmiri villagers watch the funeral of Zahoor Ahmed, a soldier turned rebel, in Pulwama south of Srinagar, Indian controlled Kashmir, Saturday, Dec. 15, 2018. At least seven civilians were killed and nearly two dozens injured when government forces fired at anti-India protesters in disputed Kashmir following a gunbattle that left three rebels and a soldier dead on Saturday, police and residents said. (AP Photo/ Dar Yasin) (Source: Dar Yasin)

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.

Kashmiri villagers watch the joint funeral of a civilian Abid Lone and local rebel Adnan Ahmed in Pulwama, south of Srinagar, Indian controlled Kashmir, Saturday, Dec. 15, 2018. At least seven civilians were killed and nearly two dozens injured when government forces fired at anti-India protesters in disputed Kashmir following a gunbattle that left three rebels and a soldier dead on Saturday, police and residents said. (AP Photo/ Dar Yasin)
Kashmiri villagers watch the joint funeral of a civilian Abid Lone and local rebel Adnan Ahmed in Pulwama, south of Srinagar, Indian controlled Kashmir, Saturday, Dec. 15, 2018. At least seven civilians were killed and nearly two dozens injured when government forces fired at anti-India protesters in disputed Kashmir following a gunbattle that left three rebels and a soldier dead on Saturday, police and residents said. (AP Photo/ Dar Yasin) (Source: Dar Yasin)
Kashmiri villagers offer joint funeral prayers for a civilian Abid Lone, right, and local rebel Adnan Ahmed in Pulwama, south of Srinagar, Indian controlled Kashmir, Saturday, Dec. 15, 2018. At least seven civilians were killed and nearly two dozens injured when government forces fired at anti-India protesters in disputed Kashmir following a gunbattle that left three rebels and a soldier dead on Saturday, police and residents said. (AP Photo/ Dar Yasin)
Kashmiri villagers offer joint funeral prayers for a civilian Abid Lone, right, and local rebel Adnan Ahmed in Pulwama, south of Srinagar, Indian controlled Kashmir, Saturday, Dec. 15, 2018. At least seven civilians were killed and nearly two dozens injured when government forces fired at anti-India protesters in disputed Kashmir following a gunbattle that left three rebels and a soldier dead on Saturday, police and residents said. (AP Photo/ Dar Yasin) (Source: Dar Yasin)