SRINAGAR, Feb 24 (AP): Shops and businesses closed Friday in Srinagar, the main city in Indian-controlled Kashmir, after separatist groups called a general strike to protest the killings of four boys killed during an army manhunt for militants.
Buses and cars stayed off the roads after angry crowds pelted passing vehicles with stones.
The protest was sparked by a Sunday shooting in the village of Dodipora, where protesters say security forces cordoned off a playground and fired indiscriminately during a hunt for a militant suspect. Dodipora is about 90 kilometres (55 miles) north of Srinagar.
Four boys between the ages of 6 and 18 died in the shooting.
The army, however, denies its soldiers fired indiscriminately.
Maj. Gen. N. K. Singh said the army had sealed off part of Dodipura after receiving a tip that militants were hiding there. A gunfight broke out after the militants hurled grenades at the soldiers, and the boys died in the crossfire, Singh said.
The call for a strike was made Thursday by the All Party Hurriyat Conference, an umbrella body of separatist groups. Hurriyat chairman, Mirwaiz Umar Farooq said the strike was also to press their demand for a reduction of troops in India's Jammu-Kashmir state.
"Our demand for demilitarising Jammu-Kashmir should be viewed in the context of such incidents which continue to happen despite repeated pledges from the government that they won't recur," Farooq said in a statement Thursday.
Authorities were bracing for more protests after afternoon prayers later Friday. Police and paramilitary soldiers have been deployed in large numbers at busy crossroads and were patrolling the main streets of Srinagar to prevent any outbreak of violence.