Indian riot police fired teargas and used batons Friday to disperse hundreds of Kashmiris protesting the alleged rape of a married woman in the disputed region, police and witnesses said.The woman from Muslim-majority southern Kulgam district alleged that she was abducted and subsequently raped by two armed men wearing army uniforms on Tuesday.On Friday, angry protesters set fire to a government vehicle and clashed with police, one officer said, adding several protesters and policemen were hurt after police used teargas and batons.
"The protesters have retreated into narrow lanes and are targeting the policemen with stones and bricks," a witness, Ghulam Ahmed, said in Kulgam town, a two-hour drive from the region's biggest city Srinagar.
The region was hit by massive protests in 2009 over the alleged murder and rape of two women in the neighbouring Shopian district. Federal investigators later said the two had drowned in a stream and were never raped.Police have registered a case and constituted a special team to investigate the latest incident, while the army has also launched its own investigation."If there is any truth in the allegation, then it is a criminal act against which strict action must be taken," the army chief of Kashmir valley S.A. Hasnain told reporters in Srinagar."Army is cooperating in the police investigation and we have launched a separate investigation of our own," Hasnain said.He said that in Kashmir even militants use combat uniforms."I do want to clarify this that in Kashmir, (military) uniform is also worn by terrorists," he said, and did not rule out the incident involving rebels aiming to incite anger against the army.
The protests were the first major demonstrations this summer and raised concerns that the scenic region might return to the street violence that has hit the state in the last three years, leaving scores dead.
State Chief Minister Omar Abdullah said an identification parade of soldiers from the army unit stationed in the area could be held.He added the "guilty won't be spared".Muslim-majority Kashmir is split between India and Pakistan, with the Indian-administered sector hit by a violent 20-year insurgency against rule from New Delhi that has left more than 47,000 people dead.Kashmiri separatists have called for more protests and also demanded an independent probe by human rights groups or a team from the UN.