Srinagar, April 11 (IANS) Four civilians and a soldier were killed on Wednesday as a fierce gunfight between militants and security forces in Jammu and Kashmir’s Kulgam district sparked off violent street protests and a call for a two-day shutdown in the Valley.
Sepoy S. Gunakar Roy was killed when militants hiding in a house in Wani Mohalla in Khudwani area fired at security personnel closing in on them. Two other security personnel were wounded in the fighting.
The security forces fired back in a bid to capture the militants, said to be linked to the Pakistan-based Lashkar-e-Taiba (LeT).
As the fighting raged, hundreds of people poured out of their homes and attacked the security forces with stones. The security personnel opened fire.
Doctors named the civilians who died as Aijaz Ahmad Palla, 30, who had a gunshot injury, Faisal Elahi, 15, Bilal Ahmad Dar, 17, and Sharjeel Sheikh 28.
Police issued a statement saying the civilian deaths took place as a result of crossfire between the militants and security forces.
This was strongly contested by locals who assert that the civilians were shot dead by the security forces determined to break up the street protests.
In the end, the troops fired explosives to destroy the house where the militants had been hidden. Two other houses in the vicinity caught fire. But there was no trace of the militants, who appeared to have escaped in the clashes between civilians and security forces.
Police officials stated this after clearing the debris of the house.
Four injured civilians have been referred to Srinagar for specialized treatment. Informed sources said over 40 civilians were injured in street clashes. The condition of two of them was said to be critical.
Authorities ordered the closure of all schools and colleges in Kulgam and Internet services were suspended in south Kashmir areas.
A Station House Officer (SHO) sustained a head injury during clashes between the civilian protesters and the security forces in north Kashmir’s Baramulla town.
Similar clashes also erupted in north Kashmir’s Sopore town as news about the deaths of civilians in Kulgam spread. Unrest also gripped Anantnag, Pulwama and Shopian towns.
Student protests rocked Kashmir University in Srinagar, the Islamic University of Science and Technology in Awantipora in south Kashmir and Degree College in Bandipora in north Kashmir.
Meanwhile, Jammu and Kashmir Liberation Front (JKLF) Chairman Yasin Malik was detained soon after he and separatist leaders Syed Ali Geelani and Mirwaiz Umar Farooq called for a two-day shutdown in the Kashmir Valley on Thursday and Friday to denounce the Kulgam killings.
While Malik addressed the media in person, Geelani and the Mirwaiz spoke to the journalists over telephone.
After the press conference, Malik set out on a protest march but was detained, triggering more clashes between JKLF supporters and security forces in Srinagar.