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Protest Against Rape Paralyzes Kashmir

SRINAGAR, India: Shops and businesses shut down Saturday in Indian Kashmir to protest an alleged abduction and rape that triggered two days of violent anti-India demonstrations.

The protests, held in the alleged rape victim’s village south of the main city of Srinagar, kindled concerns of a return to the deadly street violence that has consumed the disputed Himalayan region in recent years.

Police have barred public gatherings in Manzgam village, where thousands on Friday marched and threw stones at law enforcement officers, who responded by swinging batons and firing tear gas, police said. At least five civilians and four officers were injured. Answering separatist leaders’ calls for a general strike on Saturday, banks, schools and most other businesses remained shuttered in Srinagar. Public transport was not running, and few government workers showed up at their offices.

Police said, meanwhile, that a medical examination of the woman alleging rape by two Indian soldiers showed “no marks of violence or resistance on any part of the body.” The investigation continues, and officials assured that justice would be done.

“We’ve collected the woman’s clothes and sent them for forensic examination. We’ve also video graphed the spot where the alleged crime took place,” special police investigator Mohammed Shafi Mir said. “The probe will be completed within shortest possible time.” The army has opened a separate investigation.

The woman says in her police statement filed Thursday that two soldiers abducted her Tuesday near her Manzgam home and held her in a meadow hut, raping her repeatedly over two days.

Her husband later told reporters she was left in the meadow and made her way home in a state of shock, but that she would be able to identify her attackers.

Kashmiri separatist leader Syed Ali Shah Geelani rejected the police and army investigations as biased and called for Saturday’s public boycott across the region.

Mounting anger prompted Kashmiri officials to call for calm, wary that the case could touch off renewed conflict in the volatile region that is divided between India and Pakistan but claimed by both in its entirety.

A gunbattle Saturday between Indian troops and rebels killed suspected insurgents in a forest north of Srinagar, Indian army spokesman Lt. Col. J.S. Brar said. There was no statement from the rebels.

Protests by stone-throwing youths and clashes with police have become routine during the warmer months in Kashmir, where anti-India sentiment runs deep. Human rights groups have accused the Indian military of using rape and sexual molestation to cow the local population.

In 2009, massive protests broke out after allegations that two women were raped and murdered by men in uniform. A federal investigation later decided they had not been raped and had died from drowning.

Separatists in the Indian-ruled portion have been fighting since 1989 for independence or merger with Pakistan. More than 68,000 people, most of them civilians, have been killed in the armed uprising and subsequent Indian crackdown.

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