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Hundreds turn out in support for people of Kashmir

Last Updated Aug 18, 2019 at 1:15 pm EST

Hundreds turn at Nathan Phillips Square to voice their support for the people of Kashmir, just steps away from where India Day celebrations are happening. CITYNEWS/Melissa Nakhavoly

Hundreds turned out at Nathan Phillips Square to voice their support with the people of Kashmir on Sunday.

The demonstration took place mere steps from where scheduled India Day celebrations are set to take place.

Several hundred demonstrators gathered on Saturday outside Queen’s Park, calling out what they said was “atrocities in Kashmir.” It was one of a number of rallies held across the country.

Kashmiri Canadians and their allies are calling on the federal government to speak up on their behalf. Foreign Affairs Minister Chrystia Freeland said in a statement earlier this week that the government was keeping an eye on the conditions in the region.

The gathering comes as Indian authorities say they are easing a nearly two-week old security crackdown in the region, restoring some landline phone service and easing restrictions on the movements of people in some areas.

Soldiers manned nearly deserted streets and limited the movement of the few pedestrians who came out of their homes in Srinagar, the region’s main city.

The security crackdown and a news blackout were installed following an Aug. 5 decision by India’s Hindu nationalist government to downgrade the Muslim-majority region’s autonomy.

But the Press Trust of India news agency said authorities re-imposed restrictions in parts of Srinagar after violence was reported on Saturday.

About 300 Kashmiris returned to Srinagar on Sunday from a Hajj pilgrimage in Saudi Arabia. Many of them became emotional while reuniting with their family members who met them at the city’s airport. Due to the security and communications lockdown, many travellers were unable to contact anybody in the Kashmir region.

Public transport buses started operating in some rural areas in Indian-controlled Kashmir on Saturday. Cellphone and internet services 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.

The New Delhi government’s decision on Kashmir’s status has touched off anger in the region and raised tensions with Pakistan. Kashmir is divided between Pakistan and India, but both claim the region in its entirety. The nuclear-armed archrivals have fought two wars over the territory.

Pakistani Prime Minister Imran Khan demanded that United Nations observers be deployed to the troubled region.

Indian Defence Minister Rajnath Singh dismissed the idea, and said that if talks are held between New Delhi and Islamabad they would only be on Pakistani-administered Kashmir, not on India’s part of the region.

An exchange of gun and mortar fire between Indian and Pakistani forces was reported on Saturday across the militarized Line of Control that divides Kashmir between the countries. India said one of its soldiers was killed in the exchange.

Meanwhile, ordinary people in the region continue to feel the impact of the restrictions.

Nazir Ahmad, a retired engineer who lives in Srinagar, said Saturday that residents were still facing difficulties in buying items such as vegetables, milk and medicine. He said his father is sick and needs a constant supply of medicine, which the family is finding difficult to procure.

“There is no internet, no telephone, no communication, no transportation,” said Ahmad, describing the situation as living through a “siege.”

“We are living like animals,” he said. “So I request everybody, please come and solve this situation. Nobody is coming out” of their homes.

Files from The Associated Press were used in this report