Four Indian soldiers killed in Kashmir battle with militants

At least seven died in gunfight between Indian forces and Kashmir militants. Above, a suspected shelter of the Kashmir militants. (AFP)
Updated 18 February 2019
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Four Indian soldiers killed in Kashmir battle with militants

  • Government forces have launched a massive hunt for militants in parts of the disputed region since Thursday’s bombing
  • Kashmir has been split between India and Pakistan since independence from Britain in 1947

SRINAGAR, India: Indian troops suffered new losses Monday in a battle with Kashmir militants that left at least seven dead, officials said, just days after a major suicide bomb attack escalated tensions with neighboring Pakistan.

The confrontation piled more pressure on the Indian government, which has blamed Pakistan for last Thursday’s suicide attack on a convoy that killed at least 41 paramilitaries.

Several hours of shooting rocked the Pulwama district, south of Kashmir’s main city of Srinagar, after officials reported that four soldiers, two militants and a civilian were killed in the latest clash.

An army major was among the dead, along with two militants from the Pakistan-based Jaish-e-Mohammed (JeM) group which claimed last week’s attack, military and police officials said.

“The encounter is still on,” Col. Rakesh Kalia, a military spokesman in Kashmir, told AFP.

Hundreds of soldiers raided villages and fired warning shots at a suspected militant hideout, unleashing the firefight in the village of Pinglan.

Some militants were believed to have escaped, police said, and government forces cordoned off other villages as they gave chase.

Government forces have launched a massive hunt since an explosives-packed van struck the convoy transporting 2,500 security men close to Pinglan on Thursday.

A video on social media purportedly shows a pre-recorded message by the 20-year-old Kashmiri suicide bomber warning of more attacks.

Pakistan has denied any role in the attack.

As Islamabad recalled its envoy to New Delhi for “consultations,” India’s Prime Minister Narendra Modi on Monday called for greater international action against “terrorism.”

“The cruel terrorist attack in Pulwana shows that time for talks is over,” Modi told reporters after meeting with Argentina’s President Mauricio Macri in New Delhi.

Thousands of demonstrators staged angry rallies in several Indian cities over the weekend, with attacks on Kashmiris reported in different towns.

Protesters in New Delhi on Sunday burned effigies of Pakistani and JeM leaders.

Many small businesses closed Monday following a call for a nationwide shutdown.

In the capital, a Kashmiri man was beaten by a mob that accused him of chanting anti-India slogans. He was later detained by police.

A curfew remained in force for a fourth day in Jammu city, in the Hindu-majority part of Kashmir, where mobs attacked and set fire to properties belonging to Kashmiri Muslims.

Thousands of residents in the city have fled to Muslim-majority areas.

The government faces increased pressure because of an upcoming national election.

New Delhi has withdrawn trade privileges for Pakistan and ended police protection for four Kashmiri separatist leaders.

Some commentators have called for military action against Pakistan however.

India launched what it called ‘surgical strikes’ on targets in Pakistani Kashmir in September 2016, 11 days after a militant attack on an Indian army base in Kashmir which left 19 soldiers dead. Pakistan denies the strikes took place.

But experts say India has limited options for action now.

“Whatever retaliation India takes will be symbolic. It won’t have any real impact,” Ajay Sahni, executive director of the New Delhi based Institute for Conflict Management, told AFP.

Saudi Foreign Minister Adel Al-Jubeir said during a visit to Islamabad that his country “will try to de-escalate tensions” between India and Pakistan. He is due to visit New Delhi with Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman on Tuesday.

JeM is one of several militant groups fighting Indian troops in Kashmir, which has been split between India and Pakistan since independence from Britain in 1947. Both claim the Himalayan region and have fought two wars over the territory.

Kashmir is the world’s most militarised zone with some 500,000 Indian troops deployed to fight a rebellion that broke out in 1989.

Tens of thousands of people, mainly civilians, have died in the conflict. Violence has spiked since 2016 with almost 600 killed last year, the highest toll in a decade.


Mexico demands apology for colonial ‘abuses,’ Spain hits back

Handout photo released by the Mexican presidency showing Mexican President Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador answering questions during a press conference at the Palacio Nacional, in Mexico City on March 25, 2019. (AFP)
Updated 26 March 2019
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Mexico demands apology for colonial ‘abuses,’ Spain hits back

  • “The government of Spain deeply regrets that the letter the Mexican president sent to his majesty the king, whose contents we firmly reject, has been made public,” it said in a statement

MEXICO CITY: The 500-year-old wounds of the Spanish conquest were ripped open afresh on Monday when Mexico’s president urged Spain and the Vatican to apologize for their “abuses” — a request Madrid said it “firmly rejects.”
President Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador, an anti-establishment leftist, reopened the debate over Spain’s centuries of dominance in the New World with a video posted to social media, urging Spanish King Felipe VI and Pope Francis to apologize for the conquest and the rights violations committed in its aftermath.
“I have sent a letter to the king of Spain and another to the pope calling for a full account of the abuses and urging them to apologize to the indigenous peoples (of Mexico) for the violations of what we now call their human rights,” Lopez Obrador, 65, said in the video, filmed at the ruins of the indigenous city of Comalcalco.
“There were massacres and oppression. The so-called conquest was waged with the sword and the cross. They built their churches on top of the (indigenous) temples,” he said.
“The time has come to reconcile. But let us ask forgiveness first.”
Spain’s reaction was swift and unequivocal.
“The government of Spain deeply regrets that the letter the Mexican president sent to his majesty the king, whose contents we firmly reject, has been made public,” it said in a statement.
“The arrival, 500 years ago, of Spaniards to present Mexican territory cannot be judged in the light of contemporary considerations,” it said.
“Our two brother nations have always known how to read our shared past without anger and with a constructive perspective, as free peoples with a shared history and extraordinary influence.”

Lopez Obrador took office in December after a landslide election win that represented a firm break with Mexico’s traditional political parties.
A folksy populist, he pulls no punches in going after traditional elites — but had so far cultivated cordial relations with Spain, including during a visit to Mexico City by Spanish Prime Minister Pedro Sanchez earlier this year.
Lopez Obrador made the remarks during a visit to his native Tabasco state, in southern Mexico.
He was later due to visit the nearby city of Centla. On March 14, 1519, the site was the scene of one of the first battles between Spanish conquistador Hernan Cortes and the indigenous peoples of the land now known as Mexico.
With the help of horses, swords, guns and smallpox — all unknown in the New World at the time — Cortes led an army of less than 1,000 men to defeat the Aztec empire, the start of 300 years of Spanish rule over Mexico.