Source AP ©

Massive riots hit Indian Kashmir on anniversary of Martyr's Day

Hundreds of Kashmiris clashed with government forces as shops closed Friday in Indian Kashmir in response to a call for a strike to mark the anniversary of "Martyr's Day," when 21 Kashmiri Muslims were ordered killed to quell a 1931 uprising.

The July 13 event commemorates the men sentenced to die by the army of a Hindu king, who then ruled the Muslim-majority territory.

"We'll never forget thousands of Kashmiris who have carried on the mission of the 1931 martyrs and laid their lives for the noble cause," said Mirwaiz Omer Farooq, the chairman of the All Parties Hurriyat Conference or APHC, the main alliance of separatist groups campaigning for Kashmir's independence from predominantly Hindu India.

Kashmir streets were deserted, with public transport off the roads.

Police and security forces set up additional road checkpoints in Srinagar city, the summer capital of India's Jammu-Kashmir state, where Farooq led 4,000 supporters after the Friday prayers to the "martyr's graveyard."

They offered wreaths at the graves and chanted pro-independence slogans such as "Kashmir belongs to Kashmiris; We will decide its fate."

Clashes erupted as nearly 400 supporters attacked police and paramilitary soldiers with stones while returning from the graveyard, said Bashir Khan, a police officer.

Government soldiers charged them with wooden batons. No injuries were immediately reported, Khan said.

Police stopped the APHC activists from building a "minaret for martyrs" and detained several activists in Srinagar on Thursday, said police officer Mushtaq Ahmed.

Farooq condemned the police action and pledged to build the minaret anyway.

Shortly after predominantly Hindu India and Muslim Pakistan won independence in 1947, the Hindu king of Kashmir - a Muslim majority principality - chose to join India rather than Pakistan, triggering a military conflict between the neighbors that eventually split the Himalayan region.

The two neighboring South Asian rivals have since fought two wars over Kashmir's control. The region is divided between them, but both claim all of it.

Since 1989, separatist political groups and nearly a dozen rebel groups have rejected Indian rule over Kashmir and want to carve out an independent homeland or merge with Muslim-majority Pakistan. More than 68,000 people, most of them civilians, have died in the conflict since 1989.