Seven civilians were killed as Indian troops fired on protesters yesterday after a gunfight left three armed rebels and a soldier dead in the disputed region of Kashmir, police and hospital officials said.
The fighting erupted soon after troops laid siege to a house in the southern Pulwama area in Indian-administered Kashmir where the militants were hiding, a police officer said.
Three armed militants -- including a former soldier who had joined the rebels -- then jumped out of the house into an orchard to fight the soldiers and were killed.
The fighting also left a soldier of the Indian army dead, senior police officer Swayam Prakash Pani told AFP.
While the gunfight was in progress, hundreds of villagers poured out on to the streets in freezing cold and marched towards the orchard, shouting slogans in support of the militants and throwing stones at the troops, witnesses said.
"It was mayhem. Six protesters died in the ensuing firing by soldiers," a police officer told AFP, speaking on condition of anonymity.
Hospital officials said a seventh man died later of gunshot wounds.
Dozens of protestors were also injured in the clashes with government forces, another police officer said.
Authorities suspended mobile internet services in many areas of the restive territory, including in the main city of Srinagar. A large number of students also held protests against the killings.
Yesterday’s bloodshed capped the deadliest year in the region since 2009, with nearly 550 killed so far including some 150 civilians, according to a monitoring group.
Popular support for the rebels and their cause has increased since the killing of a charismatic militant leader in 2016. Villagers, sometimes in their thousands, have been swarming sites of gun battles with government forces to help militants escape from military cordons.