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EU lawmakers visit Kashmir amid stone pelting and empty streets

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EU lawmakers visit Kashmir amid stone pelting and empty streets
A convoy of vehicles carrying European Union lawmakers is seen after they arrived in Srinagar October 29, 2019. REUTERS/Danish Ismail   -   Copyright  DANISH ISMAIL(Reuters)
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By Fayaz Bukhari and Zeba Siddiqui

SRINAGAR, India (Reuters) – European Union lawmakers arrived in Srinagar on Tuesday, the first foreign delegation to visit Indian Kashmir’s main city since New Delhi revoked the region’s autonomy in August.

Hours before their arrival, small protests erupted in at least 40 locations around the city, prompting security forces to fire tear gas, a police official and Reuters witnesses said, despite heavy troop deployment.

Many streets remained strewn with stones, shops were closed and roadside vendors absent as the delegation of around 20 EU lawmakers arrived in the city shortly after noon.

Indian officials say the situation in Kashmir is returning to normal and hope that the EU delegation’s visit will help counter international condemnation of the government’s handling of the situation.

But opposition parties are angry that European lawmakers are being allowed to visit a region from which most Indian politicians have been barred since Aug. 5, when Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s government revoked Kashmir’s special status and imposed a harsh crackdown to stifle dissent.

“MPs (members of parliament) from Europe are welcome to go on a guided tour of Jammu and Kashmir while Indian MPs are banned and denied entry,” Congress leader Rahul Gandhi said in a tweet. “There is something very wrong with that.”

Indian security officials turned back several opposition politicians from Srinagar airport over the last several weeks saying the situation was not stable enough for such visits.

The EU delegation – some of them from far-right parties – was driven in a cavalcade of black SUVs, accompanied by armed troops and security jeeps, to a military cantonment in Srinagar. This was to be followed by meetings with civil society members, businessmen, two government officials told Reuters.

On Monday Modi received the delegation and said their visit would give them a clear view of the development priorities of the region, the prime minister’s office said.

(Writing by Devjyot Ghoshal; Editing by Sanjeev Miglani and Gareth Jones)

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