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UPDATE 1-Schools deserted in Indian Kashmir as parents fear more unrest

Mon, 19th Aug 2019 11:48

* Protests over Kashmir's loss of autonomy

* Schools open, but no students

* Pakistan says Indian cross border firing kills 2(Adds details on schools and gov't offices reopening)

By Fayaz Bukhari and Devjyot Ghoshal

SRINAGAR, India, Aug 19 (Reuters) - Schools reopened inIndian Kashmir's main city on Monday but most classrooms wereempty as parents kept their children home, fearing unrest overthe government's decision two weeks ago to revoke the region'sautonomy.

About 200 primary schools were set to open in Srinagar in asign of normality returning to Muslim majority Jammu and Kashmirwhere authorities started to ease restrictions on movement lastweek.

In Shopian, in the militant hotbed of south Kashmir, a dozenschools were open on Monday but attendance was zero, Kashmir'sdirector for school education Younis Malik said.

Parents said their children would stay home until cellularnetworks are restored and they can be in contact with them.

"How can we risk the lives of our children?" said GulzarAhmad, a father of two children enrolled in a school in thecity's Batamaloo district where protests have occurred.

"Troops have arrested minor children in the last two weeksand several children were injured in clashes," he said. "Ourchildren are safe inside their homes. If they go to school, whocan guarantee their safety?"

Authorities have previously denied reports of mass arrests.

Srinagar's top administrative officer, Shahid IqbalChoudhary, said on Sunday that adequate security would beprovided for schools. "I will take responsibility for anyuntoward incident," he added.

Protests began after the Aug. 5 decision by Prime MinisterNarendra Modi's government to withdraw Kashmir's special statusand integrate it fully into India, with equal rights for allIndians to buy property there and compete for government jobs.

Critics said the decision alienated many Kashmiris and wouldadd fuel to a 30-year armed revolt in the Himalayan territorythat Pakistan also claims.

Paramilitary police in riot gear and carrying assault riflesstood behind steel barricades and coils of razor wire inSrinagar's old quarter to deter any repeat of weekend protests.

In dense neighbourhoods such as Batamaloo, youths set upmakeshift barricades to block security forces from entering. InTeilbal in south-eastern Srinagar, a Reuters witness saw largerocks, logs, and barbed wire strung across a road leading intothe area.

Authorities reimposed curbs on movement in parts of Srinagaron Sunday after overnight clashes between residents and policein which dozens were injured, two senior officials and witnessessaid. {nL4N25E042]

The movement restrictions were relaxed in parts of Srinagaron Monday, with substantial traffic on some major thoroughfares.Armed paramilitary remained deployed, though their distributionin many areas was thinner than in preceding weeks.

On Monday evening, scores of people strolled along the banksof the picturesque Dal Lake, a popular tourist destinationringed by Himalayan mountains.


At Srinagar's civil secretariat, the centre of the state'sadministration system, 98% of staff were in attendance onMonday, government spokeswoman Syed Sehrish Asgar told a pressbriefing.

But a state government official who asked not to be namedsaid only 1,830 of the secretariat's more than 3,800 staff hadactually come in.

Reuters journalists visited two dozen schools in Srinagar onMonday. Some schools were lightly staffed and classroomsdeserted. Gates at other schools were locked.

Only one student showed up at Presentation Convent HigherSecondary School, which has an enrolment of 1,000 pupils, andwent home, said a school official.

There were no students at the barricaded Burn Hall school inone of the city's high security zones.

"How can students come to classes in such a volatilesituation? The government is turning these little children intocannon fodder," a teacher said, among a handful of staff whoturned up for work.


New Delhi's decision on Kashmir has heightened tensions withits neighbour and rival nuclear power, Pakistan, and triggeredcross-border exchanges of fire.

In the latest incident, two civilians were killed inPakistan-controlled Kashmir by Indian soldiers firing across theborder, Pakistan's foreign ministry said, adding that it hadsummoned India's deputy commissioner in Islamabad to protest.

There was no immediate comment from India which haspreviously accused Pakistan of trying to whip up tensions todraw global attention.

Indian Defence Minister Rajnath Singh said on Sunday therewould be no talks with Pakistan until it acted againstanti-India militant groups operating from its soil. Anynegotiation would focus on the part of Kashmir held by Pakistan,he told a political rally in India.

Pakistan has in the past denied the allegation and says itonly gives moral and diplomatic support to the Kashmiri peoplein their struggle for self determination.

The scenic mountain region is divided between India, whichrules the populous Kashmir Valley and the Hindu-dominated regionaround Jammu city, Pakistan, which controls a wedge of territoryin the west, and China, which holds a thinly populatedhigh-altitude area in the north.(Additional reporting by Saad Sayeed in ISLAMABAD;Writing by Sanjeev Miglani;Editing by Euan Rocha and Darren Schuettler;)

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