India says Kashmir improving but restrictions stay

NEW DELHI (AP) — India’s home minister said Wednesday that normalcy has returned in most areas in Indian-controlled Kashmir but the detention of politicians and the blockade of the internet and social media were continuing because of security concerns.

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Home Minister Amit Shah said offices and businesses are open and there is no shortage of medicine, food and fuel.

Asked by lawmakers in Parliament how soon the restrictions are likely to be lifted, Shah said authorities have to fix priorities when it comes to security and the fight against terrorism.

India stripped the region of its semi-autonomous powers and implemented a strict clampdown on Aug. 5. It sent tens of thousands of extra troops to the region and detained thousands of people.

Ghulam Nabi Azad, a lawmaker representing the main opposition Congress party, said the suspension of internet services for more than three months was unprecedented anywhere in the world.

But Shah said that the law and order situation had improved with no one killed in police firing since Kashmir’s status was changed from a state to a federally-administered Union Territory in August.

The number of stone-throwing protests had come down to 544 this year as compared to 802 last year. More than 99% of students had appeared for annual examinations, he said.

He also said all land line and mobile phone services had been restored and newspapers and television channels were available in the region.

Authorities say the internet and social media can be misused by separatists to fuel anti-India protests, which have occurred sporadically in Kashmir and are quelled by security forces who fire pellets and tear gas.

Kashmir is divided between India and Pakistan since they won independence from British colonialists in 1047 and claimed by both in its entirely. The nuclear rivals have fought two wars over its control.

India accuses Pakistan of arming and training insurgent groups who have been fighting for Kashmir’s independence or its merger with Pakistan since 1989. Pakistan denies the charge and says it only provides moral and diplomatic support to rebels.