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India moves Kashmiri village leaders to safety after wave of attacks

SRINAGAR, India (Reuters) – India has shifted scores of village and municipality leaders, mostly from Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s ruling party, to secure locations in Kashmir after a spate of militant attacks, police and two security officials said on Friday.

Separatists fighting Indian rule in the disputed region have stepped up attacks on lower level politicians, many of whom do not have personal security guards, in recent weeks.

“It is a temporary arrangement,” Kashmir valley’s police chief Vijay Kumar told Reuters. “We will devise a strategy to provide security to those who are vulnerable.”

Two security officials, asking not to be named, said that around 500 politicians had been moved since Thursday, after militants shot dead a village council leader from the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) in southern Kashmir.

Many of those under protection have been housed in hotels and government buildings guarded by paramilitary troops, one official said. “We don’t want to take any chances,” he said.

Sofi Yousuf, a BJP vice-president in Kashmir, said that his colleagues were being targeted to prevent the party from expanding in the Himalayan region, where insurgents have waged war against New Delhi since the late 1980s.

“They want to create a fear psychosis on the ground,” Yousuf said.

The federal government has been trying to promote political activities since it revoked Kashmir’s special status in an attempt to draw it closer to the rest of the country.

But the loss of special privileges stoked anger across the region and this week authorities imposed a strict lockdown on the first anniversary of that decision.

Underlining the difficulties the government faces in restoring normalcy to Kashmir, around a dozen BJP members resigned from the party this week, fearing militant attacks.

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