Modi visits Indian-controlled Kashmir under tight security

SRINAGAR, India (AP) – Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi visited the Himalayas of Kashmir for his first public event on Sunday since …

SRINAGAR, India (AP) – Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi visited the Himalayas of Kashmir for its first public event on Sunday since New Delhi stripped the semi-autonomous region of the disputed region and took direct control in 2019.

Modi arrived in the midst of massive security and is scheduled to speak at a public event and review the development work. His speech will be part of a function to celebrate the annual Panchayati Raj, or grassroots democracy, day.

Tens of thousands of people and elected officials from local councils across the region gathered in the village of Palli near Jammu town for the speech. The area that Modi visited generally welcomed the unprecedented changes of the Indian government three years ago.

Officials say the councils represent grassroots management, but its members have no legislative powers. The region has been without an elected government since 2018.

Government forces waved beyond Kashmir to prevent any violence. On Friday, two suspected militants and a paramilitary officer were killed in a gun battle about 15 kilometers (9 miles) from Palli.

Police Chief Dilbag Singh said the militants killed were a “suicide bomber from Pakistan” who was probably sent to sabotage Modi’s visit. He provided no evidence to support his claim.

Modi’s two previous visits, after Kashmir’s status was changed, were to military camps to celebrate a Hindu festival with soldiers. In 2019, Modi’s government revoked the region’s semi-autonomous status, annulled its separate constitution, divided the area into two federal territories – Ladakh and Jammu-Kashmir – and removed inherited protection on land and jobs amid an unprecedented shutdown.

The region has remained on the brink of collapse since authorities introduced a series of new laws that critics and many residents fear could change the demographics of the majority Muslim Kashmir.

Kashmir is divided between India and Pakistan and both rivals claim the region as a whole. Rebels have been fighting against Indian rule since 1989. Most Muslim Kashmiris support the rebels’ goal of unifying the territory either under Pakistani rule or as an independent country.

India insists the Kashmir militant is Pakistan-sponsored terrorism. Pakistan denies the allegations, and most Kashmiris see it as a legitimate freedom struggle. Tens of thousands of civilians, insurgents and government forces have been killed in the conflict.

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