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Kashmir curfew partially eased for Friday prayers

The Associated Press NEW DELHI (AP) — A strict curfew in Indian-administered Kashmir in effect for a fifth day was eased Friday to allow residents to pray at mosques, officials said, but some protests still broke out in the disputed region despite thousands of security forces in the streets as tensions remained high with neighboring Pakistan.

The predominantly Muslim area has been under the unprecedented lockdown and near-total communications blackout to prevent unrest and protests after India’s Hindu nationalist-led government said Monday it was revoking Kashmir’s special constitutional status and downgrading its statehood.

Thousands of Indian troops were deployed to the area, with more than 500 people arrested.

Kashmir is claimed in its entirety by both India and Pakistan and is divided between the archrivals. Rebels have been fighting New Delhi’s rule for decades in the Indian-controlled portion, and most Kashmiri residents want either independence or a merger with Pakistan.

Dilbagh Singh, the region’s police chief, told The Associated Press that residents in its largest city of Srinagar were being allowed to pray at area-specific mosques.

The relaxing of the curfew in Srinagar was temporary, officials said. Friday prayers began at 12:37 p.m. in Srinagar and lasted for about 20 minutes. Television images from the city showed small groups praying in mosques.

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

In Srinagar’s Mochu neighborhood, a group of people trying to start an anti-government protest march threw stones at security forces who tried to stop them, and the paramilitary troops responded by firing tear gas and pellets to disperse the crowd, an AP photographer said. Two people suffered injuries that were not serious, the photographer said.

Other stone-throwing incidents were reported in Sopore in northern Kashmir, about 50 kilometers from Srinagar, but the situation was brought under control immediately by security forces, the Press Trust of India news agency squoted unidentified officials as saying.

While people were allowed to offer prayers in their local mosques, PTI reported that there would be no Friday congregation at Srinagar’s historic Jama Masjid, where thousands of Muslims pray every week. It also has been a center of regular anti-India protests after Friday prayers.

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

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