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Authorities impose tight curbs in Indian Kashmir for Friday prayers

SRINAGAR/NEW DELHI (Reuters) – Indian authorities imposed strict restrictions in Kashmir’s main city of Srinagar ahead of Friday prayers to prevent any protests, though the government in New Delhi said curbs on movement and communications will be lifted in the next few days.

FILE PHOTO: Kashmiri residents look out of their house during restrictions after the scrapping of the special constitutional status for Kashmir by the government, in Srinagar, August 14, 2019. REUTERS/Danish Siddiqui/File Photo

Telephone and internet links were cut and public assembly banned in Kashmir this month just before New Delhi removed the decades-old autonomy the Muslim-majority territory enjoyed under the Indian constitution to head off mass protests.

Security forces were deployed outside mosques across Srinagar, while police vans fitted with speakers asked people not to venture out, according to two Reuters witnesses.

In some parts of the city, posters appeared calling for protests and asking preachers in mosques to talk about the current situation in Kashmir valley.

“People must try to occupy the streets defying curfew,” one poster read.

India has been battling a 30-year revolt in Jammu and Kashmir, its only Muslim majority state. Critics of the government and experts have said the decision to revoke its autonomy will cause further alienation and fuel further the armed campaign.

The lockdown of the Kashmir valley, home to nearly seven million people, has drawn widespread criticism and on Friday, India’s Supreme Court heard a petition from a newspaper editor seeking to restore communication links so journalists can work.

Anuradha Bhasin, executive editor of the Kashmir Times, told reporters outside the court she was unable to reach her staff because phone lines, both cellular and landlines, and the internet was down.

Government lawyer Tushar Mehta told the court security forces were reviewing the situation and planned to lift the curbs over the “next few days.”

Indian channel NDTV, citing unnamed sources, said schools will likely open on Monday. Hundreds of political leaders and activists remain under detention, some of them in prisons outside Jammu and Kashmir.

At least 52 politicians, most of them belonging to the National Conference and Peoples Democratic Party regional parties, are currently detained at a hotel on the banks of Srinagar’s Dal lake.

A senior government official said authorities had booked 58 rooms in the hotel. “These leaders are locked inside the hotel rooms but are allowed to meet at dinner and lunch only in a dining hall,” the official said, who declined to be identified.

Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s government has said the revocation of Kashmir’s special status was necessary to ensure its full integration into India and speed up development.

The move has raised tensions on the heavily militarized border between India and Pakistan in Kashmir, where Islamabad said three of its soldiers were killed in cross border firing.

Pakistan summoned India’s deputy high commissioner in Islamabad to condemn what it said were “unprovoked ceasefire violations.”

India has accused Pakistan of violating the ceasefire.

Writing by Sanjeev Miglani and Devjyot Ghoshal; Editing by Darren Schuettler

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