Two young men were killed and nearly two dozens injured when government forces fired at anti-India protesters in disputed Kashmir following a gunbattle that left three rebels dead on Saturday, police and residents said.
Indian troops laid a siege around a village in southern Pulwama area on a tip that militants were hiding there. As the soldiers began searching for the militants, gunfire erupted, leaving three rebels dead and two soldiers wounded.
Hundreds of people marched near the site in solidarity with the rebels while chanting pro-militant slogans and seeking an end of Indian rule over the Himalayan region. Government forces fired bullets, shotgun pellets and tear gas at the stone-throwing protesters, killing two and injuring about 26 others.
The killings sparked more protests and clashes at several places in the area.
Two police officials, speaking on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to talk to the media, said the two civilians were killed in the anti-India protests. However, resident Ubaid Ahmed said that soldiers in an armored vehicle fired at a small group of civilians away from the site of the battle, and as the vehicle jammed on a roadside, the troops fatally shot one of them.
At least 238 militants, 150 members of government forces and 147 civilians have died in the armed conflict so far this year, the deadliest since 2009.
India and Pakistan each claim the divided territory of Kashmir in its entirety. Most Kashmiris support the rebel cause that the territory be united either under Pakistani rule or as an independent country while also participating in civilian street protests against Indian control.
India accuses Pakistan of arming and training the rebels, a charge Pakistan denies. Nearly 70,000 people have been killed in the uprising and the ensuing Indian military crackdown.