A strict curfew keeping residents of Indian-occupied Kashmir in their homes for a fifth day was being eased for Friday prayers, the police chief said.
The mostly-Muslim region has been under an unprecedented security lockdown and near-total communications blackout to prevent unrest as India’s Hindu nationalist-led government announced it was revoking Kashmir’s special constitutional status and downgrading its statehood.
“People will be allowed to go to the area-specific mosques for the prayers in most parts of the Srinagar city,” the region’s police chief, Dilbagh Singh, told The Associated Press.
The relaxing of the curfew in occupied Kashmir’s main city was temporary but a precise timeframe wasn’t given. Friday prayers start at 12:37pm in Srinagar and last for about 20 minutes.
Television images showed small groups of people offering prayers in local mosques.
“We see a sense of calm and normalcy [in occupied Kashmir]. There has been no incident of violence,” External Affairs Ministry spokesman Raveesh Kumar told reporters in New Delhi.
The Press Trust of India news agency said authorities will allow people to offer prayers in small local mosques, but there will be no Friday congregation at the historic Jama Masjid where thousands of Muslims pray every week.
Jama Masjid has been an epicentre of regular anti-India protests after Friday prayers.
Authorities will be keenly watching people’s reaction as they often take to the streets after the prayers for anti-India demonstrations. This is expected to determine further easing of restrictions with the Muslim festival of Eidul Azha to be celebrated on Monday.
Prime Minister Narendra Modi in his address to the nation on Thursday promised Kashmiri people that his government is making “sincere efforts to ensure that the people in the region have no difficulties in celebrating Eid”.
The restrictions on public movement throughout Kashmir have forced people to stay indoors and closed shops and even clinics. All communications and the internet have been cut off. Prime Minister Modi said late Thursday the situation in the region would return to normal gradually.
Rebels have been fighting Indian rule for decades and most Kashmiri residents want independence or a merger with Pakistan.
On Friday, Foreign Minister Shah Mehmood Qureshi was to meet with Chinese leaders in Beijing as part of efforts to pressure India to reverse its decisions on Kashmir.
Before leaving for Beijing, Qureshi said he will apprise Islamabad’s “trusted friend” about the situation.
The government has said it is considering a proposal to approach the International Court of Justice over India’s action. It also decided earlier this week to downgrade diplomatic ties with New Delhi, expel the Indian ambassador and suspend trade and the Samjhota Express train service with India.
An estimated 20,000 people living along the heavily militarised Line of Control in Azad Jammu and Kashmir have migrated to safer places in the past week due to cross-border firing. India had last week fired banned cluster munitions in violation of the Geneva Convention and international humanitarian law.