Kashmir tensions spike after separatist icon's death

Thousands of Indian security forces maintained a lockdown across Kashmir on Friday after the death of a separatist political leader sparked clashes with protesters.

The death of Syed Ali Geelani at the age of 92 heightened tensions in the disputed Himalayan territory after authorities refused to let him have a public funeral.

An internet and mobile phone shutdown ordered after the separatist icon died late Wednesday continued for the second day.

Security forces were deployed around major mosques that remained closed, but special prayers for Geelani were held in a few smaller sites across the Muslim majority region.

Thousands of police and troops patrolled the streets to keep people indoors following clashes between residents and government forces in the main city of Srinagar late Thursday.

But dozens of citizens, angry at the refusal to let them pay a public tribute to Geelani, clashed with government forces for the second day, hurling stones at paramilitaries who chased them with batons.

Geelani’s son accused police of taking his father’s body away to be buried in the middle of the night, hours after his death.

The family said no relatives were allowed at the burial but police rejected the allegations as “false propaganda”.

A video widely shared on social media showed officers in a scuffle with Geelani’s relatives before taking away his body that was wrapped in a Pakistani flag.

Geelani, who had spent much of the past five decades in jail or under house arrest, had infuriated successive Indian governments with his pro-Pakistan stance and demands for a self-determination vote.

The nuclear-armed neighbours have disputed the region since their independence in 1947 and have fought two wars over Kashmir.

Pakistan observed a day of official mourning for Geelani on Thursday.

Mirwaiz Umar Farooq, Kashmir’s chief cleric and Geelani’s longtime associate, said in a statement that the funeral restrictions were “extremely shameful and exposes the authoritarian mindset of the government.”

India imposed a similar internet shutdown and other controls for nearly a year after stripping the territory of its semi-autonomy in 2019.

An insurgency against Indian rule erupted in 1989 and has left tens of thousands of dead. Security forces still fight near daily gun battles with separatist militants.

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