Indian PM 'shocked' by protests

2010-09-15 11:20

New Delhi – Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh said on Wednesday he was "shocked and distressed" by deadly protests in Kashmir and called for calm to enable talks on the crisis to take place.

He said some of the escalating demonstrations, which began in June, "may have been impulsive or spontaneous" but he also pointed the finger at "certain groups" for orchestrating them.

New Delhi has in the past blamed Pakistani groups and hardline separatists for stirring up trouble in Kashmir, which is divided between India and Pakistan.

"I was shocked and distressed to see young men and women – even children – joining the protests on the streets," Singh said at the opening of a meeting of political parties called to debate ways of easing tensions in Kashmir.

His comments came as police opened fire on another demonstration in the disputed Himalayan region on Wednesday, killing two people and injuring at least 11 others.

Dialogue and discussion

"The only path for lasting peace and prosperity in Jammu and Kashmir is that of dialogue and discussion," Singh added.

"Those who have grievances against the government have to talk to the administration," he said. "But it is also true that meaningful dialogue can happen only in an atmosphere free from violence and confrontation."

Singh, who admitted last week that he was "groping" for a response to the unrest, was chairing the all-party meeting at his New Delhi residence as the government comes under pressure to defuse the worsening crisis.

On Monday, the Muslim-majority region suffered its bloodiest day in three months of unrest, with 17 people killed in police shootings. One police officer also died in mob violence.

One conciliatory measure under consideration is the partial withdrawal of a tough military law in the region, which grants the armed forces immunity from prosecution and fuels Kashmiris' strong sense of injustice.