Clashes have erupted in Indian-administered Kashmir, as a delegation of mostly far-right members of the European Parliament paid a contentious visit to the Muslim-majority region stripped of its autonomy in August.
The European Parliament members are the first foreign delegation to visit Kashmir since New Delhi revoked the region’s autonomy on August 5. It is, however, not an official delegation from the European Union.
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With a curfew in many parts of the main city, Srinagar, police fired tear gas and shotgun pellets as about 40 clashes flared across the Kashmir Valley, officials said.
Late on Monday, a truck driver was shot dead, the sixth such killing targeting the vital apple sector, while a grenade injured 20 people elsewhere, authorities said.
The delegation of approximately 30 European MPs, including far-right deputies from Poland, France, Germany and the United Kingdom, met Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi on Monday, prompting accusations that it aimed to blunt criticism of New Delhi over Kashmir.
One member from the UK’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 party.
I am not prepared to take part in a PR stunt for the Modi government and pretend that all is well.
Chris Davies, MEP from Britain’s Liberal Democrats
The Indian government said that the aim was to give the deputies “a better understanding of the cultural and religious diversity” of the region.
The move to give rare access to European Parliament members has been criticised by opposition parties, as Indian MPs have been denied permission to visit the region that has been under security lockdown for more than 80 days now.
Earlier this month, a United States senator was also barred from visiting the Himalayan region.
The government led by the Hindu nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) has also prevented international journalists from reporting amid reports of mass arrests and torture.
Rahul Gandhi of the Congress Party tweeted late Monday: “MPs from Europe are welcome to go on a guided tour of Jammu & #Kashmir while Indian MPs are banned & denied entry. There is something very wrong with that.”
Brinda Karat from the Communist Party of India (Marxist) castigated the government for the trip saying that Prime Minister Modi wanted to show “everything is normal in Kashmir”.
“BJP is trying to paint a picture to the world that everything is normal in Kashmir and they hope these kind of delegations will send that message. There is nothing normal about Kashmir,” she told Al Jazeera.
UN ‘extremely concerned’
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.
Tens of thousands of extra troops have been sent to the region and hundreds of local politicians, lawyers and others have been 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 off for the Muslim-majority area’s more than seven million people.
The UN High Commission for Human Rights said on 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 United Nations also said it had received reports of armed groups threatening residents.
On Tuesday, unidentified gunmen shot dead five migrant labourers in Kulgam district, some 70km (43 miles) south of the main city Srinagar, police said, in the bloodiest incident since New Delhi stripped the region’s autonomy.
No group has taken responsibility for the attack, but police in the past have accused rebels of targeting non-locals in a campaign allegedly aimed at driving them from the region. Five truck drivers and businessmen from other Indian states, who were associated with valley’s vital apple trade, have been killed in recent weeks.
India accuses Pakistan of backing fighters who have been waging a decades-old armed struggle against Indian rule that has killed tens of thousands, mostly civilians.