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Two killed during anti-India protests in Kashmir

A woman and a young man have been killed and several other people were injured during anti-India protests in Indian-controlled Kashmir.

Violence erupted after government forces launched an operation against rebels in the disputed region, police said.

Indian troops came under fire from militants as soldiers laid a cordon around the southern village of Dialgam following a tip that rebels were hiding there, senior police officer Muneer Ahmed Khan said.

After a brief exchange of fire, militants took refuge inside a home where civilians, including women, were also trapped. Mr Khan said the woman was killed in the crossfire.

However, local residents said several men and women rushed to the house where the militants took shelter and asked soldiers to give them safe passage.

The residents said troops were not letting some of the women leave.

"We're negotiating with the civilians," Mr Khan said.

A police statement later accused militants of holding civilians as human shields.

As news of the siege spread, hundreds of people from Dialgam and neighbouring villages broke the security lockdown and marched near the site in solidarity with the rebels while demanding an end to Indian rule over the region.

Intense clashes erupted in and around the village as locals threw rocks at the troops, who fired tear gas and shotgun pellets to quell the spiralling protests.

A young man was killed and at least 16 people were injured in the clashes.

Authorities blocked internet and mobile phone services in some parts of southern Kashmir following the fighting.

In recent years, Kashmiris, mainly youths, have displayed open solidarity with anti-India rebels and sought to protect them by engaging troops in street clashes during military operations against the militants.

The anti-India protests and clashes have persisted despite the Indian army chief warning recently that "tough action" would be taken against stone throwers during counterinsurgency operations.

Nuclear-armed rivals India and Pakistan each administer part of Kashmir, but both claim the Himalayan territory in its entirety.

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.

Anti-India sentiment runs deep among the region's mostly Muslim population and most people support the rebels' cause against Indian rule despite a decades-long military crackdown to fight the armed rebellion.

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 and public opposition to Indian rule is now principally expressed through street protests.

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