Indian authorities begin easing clampdown in Kashmir

Kashmiri Muslim women and young girls hold placards and shout pro-freedom slogans during a demonstration after Friday prayers amid curfew like restrictions in Srinagar, India, Friday, Aug. 16, 2019. Hundreds of people have held a street protest in Indian-controlled Kashmir as India's government assured the Supreme Court that the situation in the disputed region is being reviewed daily and unprecedented security restrictions will be removed over the next few days. (AP Photo/Dar Yasin)

Authorities in Indian-administered Kashmir have begun restoring landline phone services after a nearly two-week unprecedented security crackdown and news blackout following a decision to downgrade the majority-Muslim region's autonomy

NEW DELHI — Authorities in Indian-administered Kashmir began restoring landline phone services on Saturday after a nearly two-week security crackdown and news blackout following a decision by India's government to downgrade the Muslim-majority region's autonomy.

Shahid Choudhary, a government administrator in Srinagar, the region's main city, said restrictions were being lifted in most areas and government offices were open. He also said on Twitter that food and other supplies were available "in abundance."

Police said restrictions on the movement of people were relaxed in several parts of the region. "Situation remains peaceful," they said on Twitter.

Rohit Kansal, another administrator in Srinagar, told reporters that public transport buses had started operating in some rural areas in Indian-controlled Kashmir. He also said cellphone and internet services had resumed in some districts, but news reports said that happened only in the Hindu-dominated Jammu region, which was not threatened by anti-India protests.

Security forces that blanketed the region remained on high alert after hundreds of people took to the streets for an anti-India protest following Friday prayers in Srinagar.

The government had imposed the lockdown to avoid a violent reaction to its decision on Aug. 5 to downgrade the autonomy of the region. The decision by the Hindu-led government in New Delhi has raised tensions with Pakistan and touched off anger in the Indian-controlled portion of Kashmir.

There was a deadly exchange of gun and mortar firing between Indian and Pakistani forces Saturday across the militarized Line of Control that divides Kashmir between the archrivals. Both countries claim the Himalayan region in its entirety, and they have fought two of their three wars over Kashmir.

An Indian soldier was killed by Pakistani forces in Nowshera sector, Col. Aman Anand, an Indian army spokesman, said in New Delhi. Earlier in the week, Pakistani security forces said firing by India in the region killed three Pakistani soldiers and two civilians in separate incidents. Both sides frequently exchange gunfire in the region and accuse each other of violating a 2003-cease-fire accord.

In Islamabad, Pakistani military spokesman Maj. Gen. Asif Ghafoor said the country's armed forces were fully prepared to respond to any Indian aggression.

The U.N. Security Council met to discuss Kashmir for the first time in decades, and Pakistan's U.N. ambassador said the session showed that people in the region "may be locked up ... but their voices were heard today." The council took no action during the closed meeting, which was called for by China and Pakistan.

President Donald Trump spoke with Pakistani Prime Minister Imran Khan by phone on Friday and conveyed the importance of India and Pakistan reducing tensions through dialogue, said White House spokesman Hogan Gidley.

Khan welcomed the Security Council meeting, saying on Twitter that "addressing the suffering of the Kashmiri people and ensuring resolution of the dispute is the responsibility of this world body."

According to Pakistani Foreign Minister Shah Mahmood Qureshi, Trump said he would also talk to Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi.

Qureshi said the Security Council taking up Kashmir proved that it is an international dispute and not an internal matter of India as New Delhi claimed.

The Press Trust of India news agency said Saturday that landline services in 17 of more than 100 telephone exchanges had been made operational in Srinagar. The landline connections were also restored in some other parts of the region, PTI said.

A senior Indian official in Kashmir, B.V.R. Subrahmanyam, said earlier that schools would reopen on Monday. Public transport will be restored gradually after evaluating the security situation, he said.

On Friday, hundreds of demonstrators in Srinagar carried green Islamic flags and signs reading "Stop genocide in Kashmir, wake up world." Some threw stones and clashed with security forces, which responded with tear gas.

Modi, who leads a Hindu nationalist government, has defended the Kashmir changes as freeing the territory from separatism, and his supporters have welcomed the move. One of the revisions allows anyone to buy land in Indian-controlled Kashmir, which some Kashmiris fear could change the region's culture and demographics. Critics have likened it to Israeli settlements in Palestinian territories.

India and Pakistan have fought two wars over control of Kashmir since they won independence from British colonialists in 1947. India accuses Pakistan of arming and training insurgents who have been fighting for Kashmir's independence from India or its merger with Pakistan since 1989. Pakistan says it only provides moral and diplomatic support to rebels.

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Associated Press writer Zarar Khan in Islamabad contributed to this report.

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