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REUTERS
May 20, 2018

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Modi inaugurates Kishanganga dam

SRINAGAR: Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi inaugurated on Saturday a hydroelectric power plant in the state of Jammu and Kashmir, amid protests from Pakistan, which says the project on a river flowing into Pakistan will disrupt water supplies.

The 330MW Kishanganga hydropower station, work on which started in 2009, is one of the projects that India has fast-tracked in the volatile state amid frosty ties between the nuclear-armed countries.

"This region cannot only become self-sufficient in power but also produce for other regions of the country," Modi said in the state´s capital, Srinagar. "Keeping that in mind we have been working on various projects here for the past four years." Pakistan has opposed some of these projects, saying they violate a World Bank-mediated treaty on the sharing of the Indus River and its tributaries upon which 80 percent of its irrigated agriculture depends.

"Pakistan is seriously concerned about the inauguration (of the Kishanganga plant)," its Foreign Ministry said in a statement on Friday. "Pakistan believes that the inauguration of the project without the resolution of the dispute is tantamount to violation of the Indus Waters Treaty (IWT)".

The Kishanganga project was delayed for several years as Pakistan dragged India to the International Court of Arbitration, which ruled in India´s favour in 2013. India has said the hydropower projects underway in Jammu and Kashmir are "run-of-the-river" schemes that use the river´s flow and elevation to generate electricity rather than large reservoirs, and do not contravene the treaty.

A day before Modi´s trip to the northern state, at least nine people were killed on both sides of the border due to firing by each other´s security forces, officials said.

Modi, who is on a day-long visit to the state, also flagged off the construction of the 14 km-long Zojila tunnel to provide all-weather connectivity between the cities of Srinagar, Kargil and Leh. The government said it would be the longest road tunnel in India and Asia´s longest two-way tunnel, to be constructed at a cost of $1 billion.

Meanwhile, Indian Kashmir came to a virtual standstill on Saturday as separatist groups called for a shutdown to protest a visit by Prime Minister Narendra Modi to the Muslim-majority region.

Shops shut and streets in the main city, Srinagar, were empty except for police and paramilitary patrols as authorities imposed maximum security for Modi´s one-day visit.

Authorities cut mobile internet services in the region and ordered a curfew in parts of Srinagar. Separatist groups opposed to Indian rule of Kashmir called for a strike and a protest march to a city square. Main roads leading to the square were barricaded by razor wire to stop anyone getting in. "We are not taking any chances. We´ll do everything to keep the militants at bay," a top police officer told AFP on condition of anonymity.

Authorities closed schools, colleges and universities for the day in case of student protests. The main venue for Modi´s visit to Srinagar, the Dal Lake tourist attraction, was made out of bounds to the public.

Modi started the tour in Leh, a remote high-altitude desert area popular with trekkers, where he inspected work on a 14 kilometer long tunnel connecting the Kashmir valley with the Ladakh region that is cut off in winter.

There are regular battles on the frontier that divides Kashmir, which is claimed in full by both neighbours. India has ordered its estimated 500,000 troops in Kashmir to suspend military operations against rebels during the holy month of Ramazan that started this week. But on top of the border clash, fighting with militants has not halted.

Late Friday, Indian troops killed three suspected militants close to the heavily militarised border in the northwest of the territory, media reports said. Army officers, who were not named, were quoted as saying the militants attacked a patrol in a forest sparking a firefight. The incident could not be independently verified. But a police officer said the body of another suspected militant was found near the site of the fighting.

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