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  • Dec 16th, 2018
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Seven civilians were killed as Indian troops fired on protesters on Saturday after a gunfight left three freedom fighters and a soldier dead in Indian held Kashmir, police and hospital officials said. The fighting erupted soon after troops laid siege to a house in the southern Pulwama area in Indian-held Kashmir where the militants were hiding, a police officer said.

Three freedom fighters - including a former soldier who had joined freedom fighters - then jumped out of the house into an orchard to fight the soldiers and were killed. The fighting also left a soldier of the Indian army dead, senior police officer Swayam Prakash Pani told AFP. While the gunfight was in progress, hundreds of villagers poured out on to the streets in freezing cold and marched towards the orchard, shouting slogans in support of the freedom fighters and throwing stones at the troops, witnesses said.

"It was mayhem. Six protesters died in the ensuing firing by soldiers," a police officer told AFP, speaking on condition of anonymity. Hospital officials said a seventh man died later of gunshot wounds. Dozens of protestors were also injured in the clashes with government forces, another police officer said.

Authorities suspended mobile internet services in many areas of the restive territory, including in the main city of held Srinagar. A large number of students also held protests against the killings. Protests spread to the old quarters of held Srinagar and the northwestern town of Sopore.

Saturday's bloodshed capped the deadliest year in the region since 2009, with nearly 550 killed so far including some 150 civilians, according to a monitoring group. Security officials say some 230 freedom fighters have been killed this year, most of them locals from the Kashmir valley, but rebel groups have recruited new members at a matching pace.

Popular support for freedom fighters and their cause has increased since the killing of a charismatic militant leader in 2016.

Copyright Agence France-Presse, 2018

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