Indian forces shot and killed at least 13 Muslim protesters on Tuesday as tens of thousands of people defied a blanket curfew in Indian Kashmir, the bloodiest day in nearly two months of unrest that has rocked this long-troubled Himalayan region, the AP reported.
Police and protesters battled each other through clouds of bullets, tear gas and rocks, while in New Delhi, politicians again failed to find a solution to the crisis that threatens to shred the last tenuous threads binding the predominantly Muslim region of Kashmir to Hindu-majority India.
Angry Muslims took to the streets of cities and towns across Kashmir in spite of the first total curfew imposed on the region in 18 years to protest Monday's killing of prominent separatist leader, Sheikh Abdul Aziz, and four others.
In Srinagar, the main city in Indian Kashmir, about 100,000 people gathered at Martyrs Graveyard for Aziz's funeral, vowing to fulfill his legacy and achieve independence for Kashmir from India.
Violence has roiled the region since June 23 when Muslims and Hindus began tit-for-tat protests over a government proposal to transfer land to a Hindu shrine in India's only Muslim-majority state.
The protests have crystalized anti-Indian feeling in Kashmir just as Indian forces appeared to be gaining an upper hand in their nearly two decade fight against the region's separatist rebels.
Huge crowds thronged Aziz's emotionally charged funeral, setting tires alight and waving green Islamic flags. Chants of "We want freedom," and "Blood for blood," rang through the cemetery.
"Our struggle for complete independence from India will continue. No power on earth can deter us from achieving this," Mirwaiz Omer Farooq, another separatist political leader told the crowds who huddled together in the rain, straining to hear the speeches delivered without microphones.
"It's a do or die for us. India can take as many lives of Kashmiris as it can, but it must leave," said Rafiq Ahmed, a protester waiving green flag.
Six protesters were killed in several incidents Tuesday in Srinagar, police said. Two more died in Nagbal village on the city's outskirts and three others were killed in Paribal, a village 40 miles to the north, they said.
Two protesters died in Jammu, the only Hindu-majority city in the region, when police opened fire at an angry Muslim mob that attacked Hindu shops and homes, said Sudhanshu Pandey, a senior government official.
Kashmir is divided between India and Pakistan, which have fought two of their three wars over the region and both claim it in its entirety.
More than a dozen Islamic militant groups have been fighting since 1989 for Kashmir's independence or its merger with Pakistan. More than 68,000 people have been killed in the fighting.
Aziz was killed Monday when police fired into a large crowd of Muslims attempting to march to the Pakistan-controlled portion of Kashmir to protest a blockade by Hindus of the highway linking the Kashmir Valley with the rest of India.
The Hindus had blocked the roads to protest to the government's decision not to allocate land to a Hindu shrine in the region, after initially saying it would. The reversal came after protests by Muslims, who accused the government of trying to change Kashmir's demographics in favor of Hindus.
Traders say the region faces shortages of food and medicine because of the blockade, and complain that hundreds of truckloads of Kashmiri fruit are spoiling because they cannot be delivered.
On Tuesday the government announced that the road was now clear. However, it said it was open to the idea of traders exporting their products across the border to neighboring Pakistan ї a move that would further reduce Kashmir's ties to India.
"However, a decision in the matter can be taken only through mutual arrangements between India and Pakistan," the Home Ministry said in a statement, warning against unilateral action.