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Anti-India protests hit Kashmir after top rebel is killed

Massive anti-India protests and clashes erupted in Indian-controlled Kashmir on Saturday after government forces killed a prominent rebel commander and his associate in a gun battle in the disputed region.

Rebel leader Sabzar Ahmed Bhat and a fellow militant died after troops cordoned off the Tral area overnight following a tip that at least three rebels were hiding there, police said.

Police said the fighting was ongoing, with at least one militant holed up in a house.

As the violence raged, hundreds of angry residents chanting anti-India slogans marched in an attempt to help the trapped rebel escape.

Clashes between rock-throwing protesters and government forces erupted in different places in the area, with police and paramilitary soldiers firing shotgun pellets and tear gas to stop the protests.

As the news of the rebel leader's killing spread, thousands of people, including students, took to the streets shouting "Go India, go back" and "We want freedom".

Many civilians were reported injured in the clashes.

Last year, similar massive protests followed by clashes rocked Kashmir following the killing of charismatic rebel leader Burhan Wani.

His death led to months of protests and a security lockdown during which at least 90 people were killed and thousands of others injured, while hundreds among them were blinded and maimed in the firing of shotgun pellets by government forces.

Earlier on Saturday, Indian soldiers killed six suspected rebels along the highly militarised de-facto border that divides the region of Kashmir between India and Pakistan, the army said.

The gun battle erupted after a group of heavily armed militants crossed from the Pakistani-controlled part of Kashmir into the Indian-held portion in western Rampur sector, said army spokesman Colonel Rajesh Kalia.

On Friday, the army said soldiers killed two suspected militants in the same area after they crossed into the Indian-administered part of Kashmir from the Pakistani-held part.

There was no independent confirmation of the latest incidents.

The nuclear-armed nations claim the territory in its entirety and have fought two wars over their rival claims.

Rebel groups have been fighting since 1989 for Kashmir's independence or merger with neighbouring Pakistan. Nearly 70,000 people have been killed in the fighting and the ensuing Indian crackdown. India has accused Pakistan of arming and training the rebels, which Pakistan denies.

Rebel groups have largely been suppressed by Indian forces in recent years. However, public opposition to Indian rule remains deep and is now principally expressed through street protests marked by youths hurling stones at government forces.

AP

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