Four civilians and one soldier were killed in India's Jammu and Kashmir state in a gunfight between militants and security forces that later sparked civilian protests, police said Wednesday.
An Indian Army soldier was killed and two other troops injured during an operation that began late Tuesday to weed out militants from a village in the Khudwani area of Kulgam.
The civilians, all men aged between 15 and 30, had been injured as local youth took to the streets pelting stones at the security forces to protest the operation, police said. They later succumbed to their injuries at local hospitals.
At least 40 others were being treated for bullet, pellet and tear gas shell injuries, a doctor at the Qoimoh hospital said.
The Indian Army and the paramilitary Central Reserve Police Force laid siege to Wani Mohalla village after intelligence reported the presence of a group of militants.
They cordoned off the area, and the militants subsequently opened fire, police sources said.
Heavy explosives blasted the house where the militants were suspected to have been hiding, and clashes with civilian protesters then occurred near the site.
Clashes with youth protesters also took place in the towns of Sopore, Bandipora and Srinagar as news of the civilian deaths spread, IANS news agency reported.
The local administration has ordered the closure of all schools and colleges in Kulgam district in view of the ongoing gunfight and the clashes. Internet services have been suspended in south Kashmir.
The militants trapped in Wani Mohalla were suspected of belonging to the Lashkar-e-Taiba (LeT) group which has its base in neighbouring Pakistan.
The disputed Kashmir region is divided into two parts: one administered by India and the other by Pakistan.
Anti-Indian sentiment runs deep in Muslim-majority Kashmir, where a violent secessionist movement against New Delhi's rule has flourished. More than 44,000 militants, security personnel and civilians have died in connection with the separatist violence since the late 1980s.
India has accused Pakistan of supporting and encouraging the militants and separatist leaders, but Islamabad has denied the charge and called them freedom fighters.
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