Curfew to be eased in India-run Kashmir's main city for Friday prayers
Muslim-majority region under security lockdown, near-total communications blackout
A strict curfew keeping residents of India-run Kashmir in their homes for a fifth day was being eased for Friday prayers, the police chief said.
The Muslim-majority 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 was temporary but a precise timeframe wasn't given. Friday's prayers started at 12:37 p.m. in Srinagar and typically last for about 20 minutes.
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 Muslim 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 Eid al-Adha to be celebrated 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, and Modi said late Thursday the situation in the region would return to normal gradually.
Kashmir is claimed in its entirety by both India and Pakistan and divided between them. Rebels have been fighting Indian rule for decades and most Kashmiri residents want independence or a merger with Pakistan.
On Friday, senior Chinese diplomat Wang Yi said China was gravely concerned about the situation in Kashmir, the focus of two of three wars between nuclear-armed India and Pakistan.
Wang met Pakistan's Foreign Minister Shah Mahmood Qureshi in Beijing and assured him China would continue to support Pakistan to safeguard its legitimate rights and interests, the Chinese Foreign Ministry said in a statement.
Before leaving for Beijing, Qureshi said he will apprise Islamabad's "trusted friend" about the situation.
Pakistan says it is considering a proposal to approach the International Court of Justice over India's action. It also has said it would downgrade diplomatic ties with New Delhi, expel the Indian ambassador and suspend trade and a key train service with India.
March to Indian Embassy in Pakistan
About 8,000 supporters of a Pakistani Islamist party, Jamaat-e-Islami, were marching toward the Indian Embassy in Islamabad on Friday to denounce the repeal of the Kashmir region's special status.
Authorities said they will not allow them to approach the embassy and deployed about 2,000 police and security forces. Members of the group have clashed with police during previous rallies in Islamabad.
Pakistan also said Friday it's suspending the Thar Express, its last remaining train link with India. The move comes a day after Pakistan suspended the key Samjhauta Express, or Friendship Express, train service that links India from the city of Lahore. The Thar Express runs between the port city of Karachi and India's town of Munabao.
On Wednesday, Pakistan expelled the Indian ambassador and suspended trade with New Delhi.
An estimated 20,000 people living along the heavily militarized Line of Control in Pakistani-run Kashmir have migrated to safer places in the past week due to cross-border firing. Pakistan says banned cluster munitions were fired in violation of the Geneva Convention and international humanitarian law.