By Devjyot Ghoshal and Fayaz Bukhari
SRINAGAR, India (Reuters) – Authorities in the main city of Indian Kashmir tightened security ahead of Friday prayers after separatists called for a protest march to a U.N. office, with streets bristling with paramilitary personnel and some blocked by checkpoints.
Posters appeared overnight this week in Srinagar, the Muslim-majority region’s main city, calling for a march to the office of the U.N. Military Observer Group for India and Pakistan (UNMOGIP), to protest against India’s revocation of Jammu and Kashmir state’s special autonomy.
The call by separatists seeking Kashmir’s secession from India was the first since that decision on Aug. 5, which brought communication and travel restrictions in Kashmir that are still largely in place. Some landlines were restored last week.
The UNMOGIP was set up in 1949 after the first war between India and Pakistan over Kashmir, the Himalayan region both countries claim in full but rule in part. The group monitors ceasefire violations along the border between the countries.
U.S. President Donald Trump plans to discuss Kashmir when he meets Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi on the sidelines of a G7 meeting in France this weekend, a senior U.S. administration official said on Thursday.
Trump, who has offered to mediate between Indian and Pakistan, will press Modi on how he plans to calm regional tensions after the withdrawal of Kashmir’s autonomy, and stress the need for dialogue, the official said.
Protests have broken out in parts of Srinagar over the last two weeks, some drawing hundreds of people. At least 152 people have been hurt by teargas and pellets since security forces launched a sweeping crackdown, data from the Himalayan region’s two main hospitals shows.
On Friday, several dozen paramilitary personnel manned at least two barriers on the main road leading to the office of UNMOGIP in Srinagar and public movement around it was blocked.
Entry into the city’s old quarter, which has long been a centre for protests, was severely curtailed, as policemen blocked street after street with concertina wire.
Large swathes of Srinagar remained deserted with shops shut except for some provision stores with shutters half-down.
Police vans patrolled some areas announcing a curfew and asking people to stay indoors.
On the Dal Lake, long rows of houseboats, which would typically be packed with tourists this time of the year, floated closed and empty, as police patrolled its mirror-calm waters in boats.
(Editing by Sanjeev Miglani, Robert Birsel)