Curfew eased partially in Kashmir for Friday prayers

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NEW DELHI (AP) – A strict curfew keeping residents of Indian-controlled Kashmir in their homes for a fifth day was eased for Friday prayers, the police chief said.

The mostly Muslim region has been under an unprecedented security lockdown and near-total communications blackout to prevent unrest as India’s Hindu nationalist-led government announced it was revoking Kashmir’s special constitutional status and downgrading its statehood.

“People will be allowed to go to the area-specific mosques for the prayers in most parts of Srinagar city,” the region’s police chief, Dilbagh Singh, told The Associated Press on Friday.

The relaxing of the curfew in Kashmir’s main city was temporary but a precise timeframe wasn’t given. Friday prayers started at 12:37 p.m. in Srinagar and lasted for about 20 minutes.

Television images showed small groups of people offering prayers in local mosques.

“We see a sense of calm and normalcy (in Kashmir). There has been no incident of violence,” External Affairs Ministry spokesman Raveesh Kumar told reporters in New Delhi.

The Press Trust of India news agency earlier said authorities would allow people to offer prayers in small local mosques, but there would be no Friday congregation at the historic Jama Masjid where thousands of Muslim normally pray every week.

Jama Masjid has been a center of regular anti-India protests after Friday prayers.

Authorities will be closely watching for any anti-India protests, which are expected to determine a further easing of restrictions for the Muslim festival of Eid al-Adha to be celebrated Monday.

Prime Minister Narendra Modi in an address to the nation on Thursday promised Kashmiri people that his government is making “sincere efforts to ensure that the people in the region have no difficulties in celebrating Eid.”

The restrictions on public movement throughout Kashmir have forced people to stay indoors and closed shops and even clinics. All communications and the internet have been cut off. Modi said the situation in the region would return to normal gradually.

Kashmir is claimed in its entirety by both India and Pakistan and is divided between them. Rebels have been fighting Indian rule for decades and most Kashmiri residents want independence or a merger with Pakistan.

Pakistan’s foreign minister was to meet Friday with Chinese leaders in Beijing as part of efforts to pressure India to reverse its decisions on Kashmir.

Before leaving for Beijing, Shah Mahmood Qureshi said he will apprise Islamabad’s “trusted friend” about the situation.

Pakistan says it is considering a proposal to approach the International Court of Justice over India’s action. It also has downgraded diplomatic ties with New Delhi, expelled the Indian ambassador and suspended trade and a key train service with India.

An estimated 20,000 people living along the heavily militarized Line of Control in the Pakistan-administered part of Kashmir have moved to safer places in the past week due to cross-border firing. Pakistan said cluster munitions were fired in violation of the Geneva Convention and international humanitarian law.

A man walks past Rapid Action Force (RAF) soldiers standing guard in Jammu, India, Friday, Aug. 9, 2019. The restrictions on public movement throughout Kashmir have forced people to stay indoors and closed shops and even clinics. All communications and the internet have been cut off. Prime Minister Modi said late Thursday the situation in the region would return to normal gradually. (AP Photo/Channi Anand)
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