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International relations

Indian authorities begin easing clampdown in Kashmir

People chant slogans to observe Black Day over India's decision to revoke the special status of Jammu and Kashmir, during a protest in Pakistan.   © Reuters

NEW DELHI (AP) -- Authorities in Indian-administered Kashmir on Saturday began restoring landline phone services after a nearly two-week unprecedented security crackdown and news blackout following a decision to downgrade the majority-Muslim region's autonomy.

Administrator Shahid Choudhary said restrictions are being lifted in most areas and government offices will open on Saturday. He also tweeted that food and other stocks were available "in abundance."

Police in Kashmir tweeted that restrictions on movement of people were relaxed in several parts of the region. "Situation remains peaceful," police said.

Security forces that blanketed the region remain on high alert after hundreds of people took to the streets for an anti-India protest following Friday prayers in Srinagar, the main city in the divided Himalayan region.

The U.N. Security Council met to discuss Kashmir for the first time in decades, and Pakistan's ambassador said the session showed that people in the region "may be locked up ... but their voices were heard today." The council took no action during the closed meeting, which was called for by China and Pakistan.

President Donald Trump spoke with Pakistani Prime Minister Imran Khan by phone on Friday and conveyed the importance of India and Pakistan reducing tensions through dialogue, said White House spokesman Hogan Gidley.

According to Pakistani Foreign Minister Shah Mahmood Qureshi, Trump said he would also talk to Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi.

On Saturday, the Press Trust of India news agency said landline services in 17 out of more than 100 telephone exchanges had been made operational in Srinagar. The landline connections were also restored in some other parts of the region, PTI said.

A senior Indian official in Kashmir, B.V.R. Subrahmanyam, said earlier that schools will reopen on Monday. Public transport will be restored gradually after evaluating the security situation, he said.

On Friday, hundreds of demonstrators in Srinagar carried green Islamic flags and signs reading "Stop Genocide in Kashmir, Wake Up World." Some threw stones and clashed with security forces, which responded with tear gas.

Modi has defended the Kashmir changes as freeing the territory from separatism, and his supporters welcomed the move. One of the revisions allows anyone to buy land in Indian-controlled Kashmir, which some Kashmiris fear could change the region's culture and demographics. Critics have likened it to Israeli settlements in Palestinian territories.

Kashmir is divided between India and Pakistan. The rivals have fought two wars over control of Kashmir since they won independence from British colonialists in 1947.

India accuses Pakistan of arming and training insurgents who have been fighting for Kashmir's independence from India or its merger with Pakistan since 1989. Pakistan says it only provides moral and diplomatic support to rebels.

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