Police fire on protesters in Indian Kashmir

NEW DELHI – Security forces opened fire on protesters in Indian Kashmir on Monday, wounding at least seven people, including two critically, in the worst clash since unrest broke out last week over the deaths of two young women.

Locals claim the women were raped and killed by Indian soldiers and have staged angry demonstrations that have spread across the Kashmir valley.

Monday's protests came a day after police released forensic reports confirming that the two women were raped. Police were investigating the rapes but no one had been charged. The cause of death had not yet been determined, the statement said.

Thousands protested Monday in the streets of Shopian, the women's hometown, before police fired tear gas shells and live ammunition at the crowd. Scores were injured, including at least seven with bullet wounds, said a police official who declined to be named in keeping with department policy.

The unrest erupted May 30 after the bodies of a 17-year-old girl and her 22-year-old sister-in-law were found in a shallow stream in Shopian. Angry street protests have left one person dead and more than 400 injured while a general strike called by separatist groups has shuttered businesses, government offices and schools across the Kashmir Valley.

Human rights groups and separatist leaders have long accused the Indian military of using rape and sexual molestation to intimidate the local population as it wages a 20-year battle against separatist insurgents.

India's military and paramilitary forces have not responded to the allegations.

The protests continued even after the state government ordered an independent judicial investigation into the deaths. Rights groups say such probes rarely yield results and are often intended only to calm public anger.

"Why did it police take so long to accept that rape was committed on these women?" said Abdul Hameed, the owner of several taxis in Srinagar, Kashmir's main city. "We don't want any more probes. We just want Indian soldiers to leave from here."

Anger was also directed at the state's top elected official, Chief Minister Omar Abdullah, who had said the initial findings "point in a direction that does not suggest either rape or murder."

Zia-u-din, a government employee, who uses just one name, called for him to quit and accused the government of "trying to cover up the horrific incident."

In a separate incident, a Kashmir police officer was arrested Monday and charged with raping a local teenager and murdering her grandmother. The suspect, Nazir Ahmed, allegedly hit the grandmother in the head after the family confronted him over the rape accusations, according to a police official who declined to be named in keeping with department policy.

Hamid was arrested Monday in Kunzar, a village about 15 kilometers 30 miles west of Srinagar. Police say the alleged rape victim was 18, though local villagers say she was 13.

Anti-India sentiment runs deep in Kashmir, a Muslim-majority territory divided between India and Pakistan that is claimed in its entirety by both. The South Asian neighbors have fought two of three wars over Kashmir since independence from Britain in 1947.

This version CORRECTS name of arrested officer in graf 12 and occupation of Srinagar resident in graf 9.

A young sea turtle is seen on Runduma island, Wakatobi. AFP/File/Adek Berry