(Photo: AP Photo / Altaf Qadri)
Hundreds of Muslims in the divided region of Kashmir took to the streets Monday night in violent protest over the reported desecration of Qurans in the United States.
Over a dozen people have reportedly died in the clash that ensued between police and protesters, and a Christian private school was set ablaze in the volatile Himalayan region.
While violence and protests in Kashmir have been ongoing since June, Monday’s protests shifted from India’s rule over the disputed region to anti-Quran actions in the United States, where footage was taken of demonstrators tearing out pages from Islam's sacred text over the weekend.
While U.S. Ambassador to the Republic of India Timothy J. Roemer said he “strongly condemn[s]” the actions in America as “disrespectful, intolerant, divisive, and unrepresentative of American values,” he also expressed “dismay” over reports of attacks on a church and school in Kashmir and nearby Punjab.
“We strongly support local authorities’ appeal for calm and an end to this violence,” he added.
Prior to Monday, at least 73 people have died as a result of separatist protests that began sweeping through the disputed region three months ago.
Since June, Kashmir has seen almost daily Muslim demonstrations, with angry crowds defying strict government curfews to throw stones at government buildings or to voice their anger.
According to reports, protesters range from separatists who want an independent Kashmir state to others who demand that India’s central government remove thousands of Indian paramilitary troops, release political prisoners and lift laws that grant special immunity to security officers.
On Monday, in a rare sight, protesters shifted their anger to the United States, inflamed by reports on the Iranian state-run channel Press TV that the Quran was desecrated over the weekend in the United States. Likely acting on the called-off plan of a Florida pastor to burn Qurans, demonstrators reportedly tore pages from the Quran outside of the White House and in Tennessee.
In response to the acts, demonstrators in Kashmir yelled “Death to the U.S.” and “Death to Quran desecrators.” There were also shouts of "Down with America" and "Down with Israel" – remarks rarely heard in Kashmir.
For decades now, the Kashmir region has been divided among three countries – Pakistan (which controls the northwest portion), China (which controls the northeastern portion), and India (which controls the remaining half of the disputed territory).
The Indo-Pakistani War of 1947, which resulted in a stalemate and a U.N.-negotiated ceasefire, established the rough boundaries of today.
Since 1989, a violent, separatist insurgency and the ensuing crackdown by Indian forces have killed an estimated 68,000 people.
The most recent violence has led Indian officials to debate whether to make goodwill gestures to try to ease tensions, including a lift of the Armed Forces Special Powers Act - which gives sweeping powers to security forces in Kashmir.
In New Delhi, Prime Minister Manmohan Singh said India was searching for a peaceful resolution to the summer of conflict.