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Occupied Kashmir tense ahead of Burhan Wani anniversary

SRINAGAR: In a crowded hospital in Kashmir a 17-year-old student is recovering from gunshot wounds, one of thousands of civilians injured in protests against Indian rule that have exploded since the death of a popular separatist leader a year ago.

When government forces came to his village in the picturesque Himalayan region recently to raid a militant hideout, the teenager, who does not want to be named, threw himself into a hail of bullets to help the fighters escape.

“I leapt in between a trapped militant and soldiers who were shooting and took the bullets myself,” he told AFP from his hospital bed in Srinagar, the main city in India-Occupied Kashmir.

Kashmir is one of the most heavily militarised spots on earth as India has stationed huge number of troops to suppress freedom movement.

But since the charismatic separatist leader Burhan Wani was killed by Indian security forces on July 8, civilians have played an increasingly active role in the freedom movement.

The death of the dashing 23-year-old, who had built up a big following on social media as he posed with an AK-47, sparked a huge outpouring of grief in Kashmir.

Nearly 100 civilians were killed in mass protests in the months that followed, most shot dead by security forces.

Many more were blinded by the pellet guns used by government forces in the region, further exacerbating the divide between authorities and an already alienated civilian population.

Hospital authorities in Srinagar say they have seen a steady stream of injured civilians since July and treated more than 1,000 for “horrific” eye injuries.

Kashmir’s separatist leaders — most of whom have been either confined to their homes or jailed ahead of the anniversary — have called for a week of protests from Saturday to mark Wani’s death.

Indian authorities have begun controlling people’s movements and suspended mobile internet services in some areas.

One senior officer said police stations across south Kashmir were full of motorbikes seized to stop activists moving between villages.

India has deployed two additional army battalions — about 2,000 troops — to troubled regions in the southern Kashmir area.

“Counterinsurgency operations have been intensified and we are eliminating them. But in absence of any political forces engaging the people, they (separatists) have galvanised the public sentiment against India.”

Analysts say this has intensified public opposition to Indian occupation in Kashmir, where nearly 100 youths joined the separatists ranks since Wani’s death.

Many have taken weapons from police and paramilitary forces during patrols.

Although he is still so weak he can only speak in a whisper, the wounded teen hopes he will soon be among them.

“I am praying to find a weapon when I get out of here and join my brothers,” he said from his hospital bed.

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