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‘We won’t give an inch’: India faces defiance in ‘Kashmir’s Gaza’

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Young men sit beside a pile of rocks and a bonfire, protecting the only entrance to a besieged neighbourhood they call “Kashmir’s Gaza” as a mosque loudspeaker broadcasts slogans of liberation.

In an act of defiance against New Delhi’s controversial decision to strip the Muslim-majority region of its autonomy, Soura neighbourhood on the outskirts of Kashmir’s main city of Srinagar has sealed itself off from security forces.

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Since early August, residents have erected ramshackle barricades of tin sheets, wooden logs, oil tanks and concrete pillars, and dug trenches to keep soldiers at bay amid daily protests against India.

“They can only enter Soura over our bodies. We won’t give even an inch of land to India,” Mufeed, a resident who volunteers to guard the neighbourhood at night, told AFP.

“Just like Gaza is resisting Israel, we will fight for our motherland with all our might,” Mufeed added.

Kashmir has waged a three-decade long armed rebellion against Indian rule with tens of thousands of lives, mostly civilians, lost in the conflict.

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Ahead of the announcement, India rushed tens of thousands of extra troops to the restive region to join 500,000 already in the valley, and imposed a strict clampdown fearing further unrest.

But protests have broken out, with the lower-middle class Soura leading the way. At least 15,000 people rallied on August 9 — the biggest demonstration in Kashmir so far.

They were met by security forces firing live ammunition, tear gas and pellet guns to disperse the crowds, with more than two dozen people reportedly injured.

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– ‘Go India, go back’ –

Soura, a crammed lakeside community of more than 2,000 homes, is surrounded by security forces on three sides.

The renowned mosque Jenab Saeb has become an assembly point for thousands of protesters in the neighbourhood.

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Every night, residents march through its narrow lanes, carrying torches and passing graffiti with the words “Freedom for Kashmir” and “Go India, go back”.

Locals pass along messages if they spot any police movement on the main highway just beyond Soura.

Police forces, who have deployed drones and helicopters, tried to enter Soura at least three times but were pushed back by stone-throwing youth, some also armed with axes and harpoons.

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Familiar with police’s crowd-dispersing tactics, protesters use saltwater to wash their faces after chilli and tear gas are fired, and wear helmets and glasses to protect themselves against pellets.

Three youths have so far been arrested after venturing out from the area.

“They (India) are testing our resilience and they will definitely fail,” local Nahida told AFP.

“We defeated them last time and even if this situation continues for years, we won’t give-in.”

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Despite the Soura protests, authorities stress that Kashmir has remained largely peaceful since the lockdown.

– ‘Making amends’ –

Soura has long been part of restive Kashmir’s history since the region was divided between India and Pakistan after independence from the British in 1947.

It was the birthplace of Kashmir’s former prime minister Sheikh Abdullah, who agreed to join India as a state with autonomy rights.

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His National Conference party — which has fought for more autonomy while being under Indian rule — ran the state for more than three decades, with his son Farooq Abdullah and grandson Omar Abdullah becoming chief ministers.

Farooq and Omar Abdullah were detained by New Delhi as part of the lockdown.

Residents have become more anti-India in recent years. In 2016 when mass street protests broke out over the death of a popular militant commander, Soura was the scene of dozens of clashes with government forces.

Soura resident Rafiq Mansoor Shah said many locals shared his misgivings about Abdullah’s decision to accede to India.

Under the new arrangements announced this month, Indians from other parts of the vast nation can now apply for government jobs and buy property in Kashmir. But many Soura natives like Shah believe New Delhi has “nefarious plans to grab our land”.

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“Because of (the Abdullah family’s) greed for power… we have become slaves of India. We are trying to correct the historical mistake,” he told AFP.

“We are trying to lead and inspire the rest of Kashmir.”


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UK travel giant Thomas Cook set to collapse: report

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Thomas Cook's 178-year existence was reported to be coming to an end on Monday after the British travel firm struggled to find private investment to keep it afloat, potentially affecting thousands of holidaymakers.

The operator has said it needs £200 million ($250 million) or else it will face administration, which could affect 600,000 holidaymakers and require Britain's largest peacetime repatriation.

A source close to the negotiations told AFP that the company had failed to find the cash from private investors and would collapse unless the government intervened.

But ministers are unlikely to step in due to worries about the pioneering operator's longer-term viability, the Times reported, leaving it on the brink.

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‘We are the people’: Watch Billy Porter get a standing ovation for his passionate speech at the Emmys

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In a powerful and passionate speech accepting his Emmy, "Pose" actor Billy Porter showered the audience with love and proudly reminded all of their right to belong and be loved.

"Oh, my God. God bless you all! The category is love, y'all, love!" Porter exclaimed.

The epic FX show "Pose" depicts Black and Latinos in the LGBTQ ballroom culture of New York City in the 1980s in the first season and the early 1990s in the second season.

"I am so overwhelmed and so overjoyed to have lived long enough to see this day," he said. "James Baldwin wrote, 'It took many years of vomiting up the filth I was taught about myself and half-believed, before I was able to walk on the earth as though I had a right to be here.' I have the right. You have the right. We all have the right."

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Paris show of King Tutankhamun artifacts set new record with 1.42 million visitors

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A blockbuster Tutankhamun show set a new all-time French record Sunday, with 1.42 million visitors flocking to see the exhibition in Paris, the organisers said.

The turnout beat the previous record set by another Tutankhamun show billed as the "exhibition of the century" in 1967, when 1.24 million queued to see "Tutankhamun and His Times" at the Petit Palais.

"Tutankhamun: Treasures of the Golden Pharaoh" -- which has been described as a "once in a generation" show -- will open in London in November.

The last time a show of comparable size about the boy king opened there in 1972 it sparked "Tutmania", with 1.6 million people thronging the British Museum.

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