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Kashmiri women shout slogans at a protest after Friday prayers during restrictions after the Indian government scrapped the special constitutional status for Kashmir, in Srinagar on August 16, 2019. Photo by Danish Ismail/Reuters

Hundreds join street protest in Kashmir, defying restrictions

NEW DELHI (AP) — Hundreds of people defied unprecedented security restrictions and held a street protest in Indian-controlled Kashmir on Friday, as India’s government assured the Supreme Court that the situation in the disputed region is being reviewed daily and the restrictions will be removed over the next few days.

Carrying green Islamic flags and placards reading “Stop Genocide in Kashmir, Wake Up World,” young and old people took to the streets in Srinagar, the region’s main city, after Friday prayers.

Some hurled stones and clashed with security forces, who responded with tear gas.

Earlier Friday, a senior Indian official in Kashmir, B.V.R. Subrahmanyam, confirmed there would be some loosening of restrictions on the region’s residents, saying that landline phone services would be restored gradually beginning Friday night and schools reopened from Monday.

He didn’t announce any immediate restoration of mobile phone service, which he said could be misused by terrorist groups.

A heavy troop presence and restrictions including a near-constant curfew and a news blackout remained in place for a 12th day. The government imposed the lockdown to avoid a violent reaction to its decision on Aug. 5 to downgrade Muslim-majority Kashmir’s autonomy.

READ MORE: Why the Kashmir conflict is not just an India-Pakistan border dispute

The Supreme Court decided to give the government more time before ruling on a petition demanding the lifting of media restrictions following its assurances that they will be eased soon, attorney Vrinda Grover told reporters. She represents Kashmir Times editor Anuradha Bhasin, who said she was unable to publish her newspaper in Srinagar.

Subrahmanyam also said that government offices had started functioning normally. He said Friday’s prayers were held peacefully and life in 12 of the region’s 22 districts was almost back to normal.

Public transport will be restored gradually after evaluating the security situation, he said.

“Some preventive arrests were made in the region as a preventive measure to maintain law and order,” Subrahmanyam said, though he did not give the number of people in government custody.

“We have prevented any loss of life or serious injuries to anyone despite concerted efforts by terrorist groups, radical groups and continuing efforts by Pakistan to destabilize the situation,” he said.

Meanwhile, the family of a Kashmiri journalist for a regional daily newspaper said he has been detained by the Indian armed forces. Irfan Amin Malik works for Greater Kashmir, one of the largest newspapers in Kashmir.

Malik’s father, Mohammed Amin Malik, told The Associated Press that Malik was taken into custody late Wednesday night at his house in Tral in Pulwama, a southern district in Kashmir.

“We are worried about our son,” he said.

Principal Secretary Rohit Kansal of the Jammu and Kashmir region said he was looking into the case. Jammu and Kashmir police chief Dilbagh Singh declined to comment.

Malik is the first journalist known to have been detained since India’s decision to revoke Kashmir’s special constitutional status. The decision has raised tensions with Pakistan. The nuclear-armed rivals both claim Kashmir and the Himalayan region is divided between them.

Pakistan’s military said earlier Friday that Indian firing across the Line of Control dividing the region killed another soldier, raising the death toll to six in less than 24 hours.

Pakistan’s foreign ministry summoned an Indian diplomat and lodged a protest over the killings. The ministry said in a statement that the “cease-fire violations by India are a threat to regional peace and security and may lead to a strategic miscalculation.”

There was no immediate comment from the Indian army.

Pakistan Prime Minister Imran Khan condemned the continued clampdown in Indian-administered Kashmir and warned his counterpart, Narendra Modi, that “no nation can be defeated militarily when it rises for independence.”

Khan in a tweet described Modi as a “fascist, Hindu supremacist.” He equated Modi with Adolf Hitler and said he feared “genocide of Muslims in Kashmir.”

Before Indian elections in April and May, Khan had expressed hope that the Kashmir issue could be resolved through talks if Modi’s Hindu nationalist party won the vote.

Modi has defended the Kashmir changes as freeing the territory from separatism, and his supporters welcomed the move.

One of the revisions allows anyone to buy land in Indian-controlled Kashmir, which some Kashmiris fear could change the region’s culture and demographics. Critics have likened it to Israeli settlements in Palestinian territories.

Associated Press writers Munir Ahmed in Islamabad, Pakistan, and Sheikh Saaliq in New Delhi contributed to this report.

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