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Hindu-Muslim clashes erupt in India

Fresh clashes have erupted between groups of Hindus and Muslims in the Indian portion of Kashmir, wounding three people.

The rival groups also burned some homes in Paddar, a village about 40 miles north of the town of Kishtwar, where clashes between Muslims and Hindus during Muslim holiday celebrations on Friday killed at least two people and injured 24. Police rushed to Paddar to control the situation, a police officer said.

Three people who sustained gunshot wounds were evacuated by helicopter to a nearby hospital, the officer said.

In Kishtwar, government forces fired warning shots to enforce a strict curfew and to push angry people back into their homes following Friday's deadly clashes. Jammu-Kashmir state director-general of police Ashok Prasad said the situation was tense, although no new violence was reported in Kishtwar.

Troops in armoured vehicles drove through the streets of Kishtwar, where the rival groups had attacked each other on Friday with firearms, stones and sticks. The town is 125 miles southeast of Srinagar, the main city in Indian-controlled Kashmir.

Scores of shops, vehicles, two hotels and one petrol station were set on fire by the mobs on Friday, police said. The rioters also looted guns from a private arms shop in the area.

The trouble erupted after Hindus objected to Muslims shouting pro-independence slogans during the Eid al-Fitr holiday, which caps the Muslim fasting month of Ramadan. Anti-India feelings run deep in Kashmir, where about a dozen rebel groups have been fighting against Indian rule since 1989. More than 68,000 people, mostly civilians, have been killed.

The rebel groups have largely been suppressed by Indian troops in recent years, and resistance is now principally expressed through street protests.

One Muslim was burned to death and one Hindu died of gunshot wounds in Friday's clashes, a police officer said. He said that 24 people were being treated in hospitals, but that their injuries were not life threatening. "The curfew is being strictly enforced. We are not taking any chances as the situation has the potential to have serious ramifications for the entire state," Mr Prasad said.

He said police were working to identify the troublemakers. Indian authorities ordered an inquiry into the rioting and replaced the local police chief and the top civil administrator as part their efforts to restore peace in the town. Authorities asked all members of the Village Defence Committee in the area to hand their weapons over to the police. The government provided weapons to a more than 20,000-strong semi-official force created in the early 1990s to counter insurgency in the region. The members are mostly drawn from Hindu community.

Kashmir is divided between India and Pakistan. The countries have fought two wars over its control since they won independence from Britain in 1947. The Indian portion of Kashmir is the only Muslim majority state in the predominantly Hindu country.

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