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SRINAGAR: Police fired tear gas and used batons Friday in Indian Illegally Occupied Jammu and Kashmir (IIOJK) to break up a protest against the killing of a minority Hindu by suspected separatist rebels.

Clashes are frequent in the occupied territory but the police operation was the first in the Indian-occupied Muslim-majority region against the local Hindu population, known as Pandits.

On Thursday two gunmen shot and killed Rahul Bhat, a government employee, inside an office complex in Budgam where he worked, said police, who blamed those fighting Indian oppression in the occupied part of Kashmir.

The protesters on Friday shouted slogans against India’s ruling Bharatiya Janata Party led by Prime Minister Narendra Modi and demanded Bhat’s killers be brought to justice.

“If this kind of killing can happen inside a government office, what security is Modi’s government talking about for us?” one angry protester who declined to be named told AFP by phone.

Police were deployed when the demonstrators poured onto a main road and attempted to march towards the airport. No injuries were reported.

Small groups of Hindus also staged protests at three other locations in Kashmir on Thursday night.

Many political leaders in the region, including Muslims, issued statements condemning the “barbaric” killing of Bhat.

Tens of thousands of Hindu families fled the Kashmir Valley in the early 1990s when an armed rebellion erupted against Indian occupation of the territory.

Most of them still live outside their homeland, scattered across Indian cities.

Bhat lived in a protected rehabilitation settlement for thousands of Pandits given government jobs in recent years under a plan to help resettle some of those who fled.

Last year several minority Sikhs and Hindus were killed in a spate of shootings, including migrant workers.

Kashmir has been contested between India and Pakistan since their independence in 1947 and the rivals claim the territory in full.

The valley has been home to an over three-decades long insurgency to end the Indian occupation and Kashmir’s merger with Pakistan.

The conflict has left tens of thousands of civilians, soldiers and insurgents dead.

In 2019, Modi’s government annulled the region’s partial autonomy, allowing all Indians for the first time to buy land in Kashmir and cancelling privileges reserved for its permanent residents.