India’s prime minister visits Kashmir amid protest strike

SRINAGAR, India (AP) — India’s prime minster paid a daylong visit to disputed Kashmir on Sunday to review development work as separatists fighting Indian rule called for a shutdown in the Himalayan region.

Shops and businesses were closed while thousands of armed government forces and commandos in flak jackets spread out across Kashmir and closed off roads with razor wire and iron barricades to prevent protests and rebel attacks during Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s visit.

India and Pakistan each administer part of Kashmir, but both claim it in its entirety. Rebels have been fighting Indian rule since 1989, demanding Indian-controlled Kashmir be united either under Pakistani rule or as an independent country.

During his visit, Modi inaugurated some infrastructure projects and started foundation work on several others related to health care, hydropower generation and education at three places in the region.

Traffic was sparse, with public transport staying off the roads and few cars venturing out in Srinagar, the main city and the center of urban dissent against Indian rule. Modi reviewed developmental projects in the city amid a massive security blanket around a lakeside convention center.

“We will fight terrorism forcefully. We will break its back,” Modi said at the Srinagar venue in an address to officials.

Authorities detained dozens of activists overnight and put separatist leaders under house arrest to stop them from staging any anti-India protest. They also shut internet on mobile phones and suspended train services in the Kashmir Valley, a common tactic to make organizing protests difficult and discourage dissemination of protest videos.

Government forces also enforced a security lockdown in downtown Srinagar, the urban heart of anti-India protests, as they warned residents to stay home to foil demonstrations.

Modi visited the remote mountainous Ladakh region bordering China and Pakistan on Sunday morning, where he inaugurated a university.

Later in a Hindu-dominated area in Jammu, Modi addressed a public rally. His speech had clear political overtones as he eyed India’s upcoming national election due in few months.

Modi invoked the Hindu nationalist theme of “Mother India,” which nationalists say included present day India, Pakistan, Bangladesh and Afghanistan.

“There are many children of Mother India who have faced persecution in Pakistan, Afghanistan and Bangladesh,” he said. “We will stand with those who were part of India at one time,” he added.

Three Kashmiri leaders, known as the Joint Resistance Leadership, called for the strike to protest Modi’s visit.

“A person who in his pursuit to crush Kashmiri resistance ordered killings and damaging properties, hurting Kashmiri economy and other oppressive measures deserves only a protest from those he has oppressed,” the leaders said in a statement.

Anti-India sentiment runs deep in Kashmir, which in recent years has seen renewed rebel attacks and repeated public protests. Nearly 70,000 people have been killed in the uprising and the ensuing Indian military crackdown.