Clashes as far-right EU lawmakers visit Indian Kashmir

Srinagar (India) (AFP) –


Dozens of clashes erupted in Indian Kashmir on Tuesday, officials said, as a delegation of mostly far-right European lawmakers paid a contentious visit to the restive region stripped of its autonomy in August.

With a curfew in many parts of the main city, Srinagar, police fired tear gas and shotgun pellets as around 40 clashes flared across the Kashmir Valley, officials said.

It was unclear if there were any injuries.

Late Monday militants also shot dead a truck driver, the sixth such killing targeting the vital apple sector, while a grenade injured 20 people elsewhere, authorities said.

The delegation of around 30 European lawmakers -- including far-right deputies from Poland, France, Germany and Britain -- met Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi on Monday, prompted accusations that it aimed to blunt criticism of New Delhi over Kashmir.

One MEP from Britain's centrist Liberal Democrats, Chris Davies, said the Indian government withdrew his invitation after he insisted on being able to talk to locals without a police escort.

"I am not prepared to take part in a PR stunt for the Modi government and pretend that all is well," Davies said in a statement.

The delegation included members of the nationalist, anti-immigration and eurosceptic Alternative for Germany (AfD) party, France's National Rally, the Brexit Party and Poland's Law and Justice.

The Indian government said that the aim was to give the deputies "a better understanding of the cultural and religious diversity" of the region.

An EU official in India stressed that it was "not on an official visit".

- UN concern -

Kashmir has been split between India and Pakistan since 1947, and on August 5 New Delhi revoked the special status of the part of the region that it administers.

Since then New Delhi has barred scores of its own politicians and a US senator from visiting the Himalayan region. Visits by foreign journalists are also off limits.

Sending in tens of thousands of extra troops, hundreds of local politicians, lawyers and others were rounded up, most of whom still remain in detention.

Access to postpaid mobile phones was only restored on October 14 and the internet remains cut for the Muslim-majority area's more than seven million people.

The UN High Commission for Human Rights said Tuesday that it was "extremely concerned" at the situation.

"We urge the Indian authorities to unlock the situation and fully restore the rights that are currently being denied," it said.

Amid allegations of torture and unconfirmed reports of at least six dead civilians, it said major political decisions about the region had been taken without the "participation of the affected population".

However, the UN also said it had received reports of armed groups threatening residents.

India accuses Pakistan of backing militants who have been waging a decades-old insurgency against Indian rule that has killed tens of thousands, mostly civilians.