Srinagar, Aug 4 (AP/UNB) — Thousands of Indian students and visitors were fleeing Indian-controlled Kashmir over the weekend after the government ordered tourists and Hindu pilgrims visiting a Himalayan cave shrine "to curtail their stay" in the disputed territory, citing security concerns.
Meanwhile, tensions flared along the highly militarized Line of Control that divides Kashmir between India and Pakistan as Pakistan accused India of using cluster munitions to target the civilian population, killing two people.
Hundreds of Indian and foreign visitors, including some Hindu pilgrims, on Saturday congregated outside the main terminal at the airport in Srinagar, the region's main city, seeking seats on flights out. Most were unlikely to get tickets, however, as authorities had yet to arrange additional flights, officials said.
The Indian air force flew 326 tourists out of Srinagar, the Press Trust of India news agency reported. Out of 11,301 tourists, only 1,652 remained on Saturday, PTI reported.
Tourists and pilgrims also took buses out of the region after authorities went to hotels in the tourist resorts of Pahalgam and Gulmarg on Friday evening telling them to leave. Authorities also bused out hundreds of Indian students from some colleges in Srinagar.
The order cited the "prevailing security situation" and the "latest intelligence inputs of terror threats with specific targeting" of the annual Hindu pilgrimage as reasons for the advisory. Several governments issued similar travel advisories.
On Thursday, officials suspended the pilgrimage for four days due to bad weather along the route. Over 300,000 people have visited the icy cave since July 1.
The evacuation order has intensified tensions following India's announcement that it was sending thousands of more troops to one of the world's most militarized areas, sparking fears in Kashmir that New Delhi was planning to scrap an Indian constitutional provision that forbids Indians from outside the region from buying land in the Muslim-majority territory.
In its election manifesto earlier this year, Prime Minister Narendra Modi's Hindu nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party promised to do away with special rights for Kashmiris under India's Constitution.
Rumors had swirled in the region on Friday, ranging from disarming of Kashmiri police forces to the Indian military taking over local police installations and schools being ordered closed, further ratcheting up tensions.
By Friday night, residents in Srinagar and other towns thronged grocery stores and medical shops to stock up on essentials. They lined up at ATMs to take out money and at gas stations to fill up their vehicles.
However, tensions eased on Saturday, though Kashmiri politicians and the public were eager to know what is to come.
Omar Abdullah, a pro-India Kashmiri leader who has criticized the Modi-led government's muscular approach in Kashmir, said New Delhi should clear the air in Kashmir.
Ordinary Kashmiris fear the government measures are a prelude to intensifying an ongoing crackdown against anti-India dissenters. Kashmir, a region known for lush green valleys, lakes, meadows and dense forested mountains, has become notorious for security lockdowns and crackdowns.
On Saturday, Pakistan's military accused Indian forces of using banned cluster munitions to target the civilian population along the Line of Control in the Pakistani-controlled part of Kashmir, killing a 4-year-old boy and a woman. It said another 11 villagers were critically wounded.
"This is violation of Geneva Convention and international humanitarian law," the military said in a statement. "This blatant Indian aggression against all international norms exposes true character of Indian Army and their moral standing."
Pakistan urged the international community to take notice.
The Indian army rejected the Pakistan claim. It said Indian soldiers killed five attackers while foiling an attempt by gunmen from Pakistani to target an Indian post.
Indian responses are only against military targets and "infiltrating terrorists who are aided by Pakistan army," another statement by the Indian army said.
As tension escalated between the two sides, authorities in Pakistan-held Kashmir ordered evacuation of thousands of residents along the frontier. They also asked residents to remain vigilant of "toy bombs" fired by India.
Pakistani Foreign Ministry urged India to act "responsibly" and "work toward preserving rather than imperiling peace and security in South Asia."
Kashmir is divided between India and Pakistan and each claims the divided Himalayan territory in its entirety. Rebels have been fighting Indian control since 1989. Most Kashmiris support the rebels' demand that the territory be united either under Pakistani rule or as an independent country, while also participating in civilian street protests against Indian control.
About 70,000 people have been killed in the uprising and the ensuing Indian crackdown.
Hong Kong, Aug 4 (AP/UNB) — On one end of a Hong Kong street, protesters dressed in black ducked behind umbrellas and makeshift barricades, occasionally throwing bricks or slinging rocks. On the other end, police decked out in riot gear shouted warnings and fired tear gas.
As the late hours of Saturday stretched into the early hours of Sunday, neither side budged. Some residents of neighborhoods embroiled in the scuffles banded together with protesters in an effort to push riot police out and surrounded a police station.
Standoffs between demonstrators and authorities have become a weekly occurrence in Hong Kong, a semi-autonomous Chinese territory that has been roiled by a summer of fiery protest. What began as demonstrations against a now-suspended extradition bill has ballooned into a broader call for greater democratic freedoms and government accountability.
The now-familiar cycle of rallies, police interventions and clashes between the two sides have splintered the city. While tens of thousands marched Saturday through Mong Kok, a bustling shopping area, to call for an inquiry into alleged police brutality, another several thousand in a different part of the city gathered to show support for law enforcement.
At one rally, attendees chanted: "Support the Hong Kong police to strictly enforce the law!" At another, protesters yelled: "Police know the law and break the law!"
Several pro-democracy rally participants expressed disappointment in what they viewed as abusive and negligent behavior from police in recent weeks. After thugs dressed in white beat up people inside a commuter rail station, leaving 44 injured, Hong Kong residents accused the police of deliberately being slow to respond. Police, meanwhile, said their resources were stretched because of the ongoing protests.
"I feel so hurt," said Zarine Chau, a 56-year-old security guard who was at the pro-democracy march. She said she rarely got involved in politics in the past, but felt moved to do so after seeing videos of police swinging their batons at protesters.
"Why doesn't the government answer to us?" Chau asked.
Members of the movement have demanded the resignation of Hong Kong leader Carrie Lam. As with all the city's chief executives, Lam was not elected by the general population but rather chosen by a committee dominated by pro-Beijing elites.
When Britain returned Hong Kong to China in 1997, the city was promised certain freedoms under the framework of "one country, two systems," creating a distance between the territory and the Communist Party-ruled central government on the mainland. In recent years, however, some Hong Kong residents have accused Beijing of chipping away at their democratic rights as booksellers and activists have been arrested. The proposed extradition legislation would have allowed Hong Kong residents to be sent to the mainland to stand trial.
An undercurrent of fear toward the Communist Party has propelled the nearly two months of protests. After protesters defied police orders to end their Saturday march at a pre-approved time and place, some scaled a flagpole near the iconic Victoria Harbour, removed from it the Chinese national flag, and flung the flag into the water.
Shortly afterward, a 38-year-old protester named Paladin Cheng planted himself beside the poles with his own set of flags, which read "Hong Kong Independence."
"We're losing our freedom little by little," said Cheng, who was clad in head-to-toe black with a black visor and face mask. "Those who don't support Hong Kong independence will have no choice but to become Chinese."
A similar act a few weeks ago infuriated authorities in Beijing when demonstrators threw eggs and black paint at the national emblem on the Liaison Office, which represents the mainland government in Hong Kong. China called the vandalism a "violent" act that challenged its authority.
Ryan Chan, a chemist, said he sympathized with the protesters' ideals but was dismayed that peaceful demonstrations were increasingly devolving into violence and creating chaos in the city.
"I'm fairly certain that the vast majority of people in Hong Kong do not like violence," he said. "The atmosphere here is becoming more and more uncomfortable."
Police warned in a press briefing earlier Saturday that those who continued beyond the permitted route would be participating in an illegal, unauthorized assembly. Last week, 44 protesters were charged with rioting, which carries a maximum penalty of 10 years.
After scores of officers in riot gear appeared to clear the streets Saturday, some protesters set fire to trash bins and pieces of cardboard, and used sling shots to hurl rocks. Others threw bricks at and spray painted inflammatory language on the outer walls of a police station, then smashed the windows of a car parked in its lot.
Clad in their signature hard hats, black shirts and face masks, they once again created barricades with reappropriated road barriers. "One two, one two," the protesters chanted as they fell back in step, only to suddenly charge at police minutes later. Police in turn threw canister after canister of tear gas, enveloping the streets with smoke.
As the standoffs dragged on, police also blocked local residents and tourists from returning to their homes and hotels. A mainland Chinese tourist surnamed Wang said he thought the protesters were naive.
"It's impossible for one country, two systems to last," said Wang, a retired police officer. "Sooner or later, they will rejoin China, and our government will deal with them."
At least for the time being, the protesters seem to be gearing up for a drawn-out struggle. Even as they were retreating from tear gas, they were looking ahead to another planned demonstration, shouting: "Strike on Monday!"
Bangkok, Aug 4 (AP/UNB) — U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo left Thailand on Saturday with his hopes for resuming nuclear talks with North Korea dashed, while facing an escalating trade war with China and a potentially devastating breakdown in relations between key American allies Japan and South Korea.
After three days in Bangkok that the Trump administration had expected could herald an end to the impasse in North Korea negotiations, Pompeo instead departed without progress on that front as Pyongyang continued to launch ballistic missiles, heightening unease over prospects for a denuclearization deal. Pompeo expressed disappointment that the North had sent neither its foreign minister nor a counterpart for the chief U.S. negotiator to the Thai capital.
"I always look forward to a chance to talk with him," Pompeo said on Friday after it became clear he would not be seeing the North Koreans. "I wish they'd have come here. I think it would have given us an opportunity to have another set of conversations, and I hope it won't be too long before I have a chance to do that."
Yet despite what he and other U.S. officials say are ongoing lower-level contacts with Pyongyang, there is no date or venue set for a resumption in negotiations more than a month after President Donald Trump and North Korean leader Kim Jung Un met at the De-Militarized Zone separating the two Koreas. At that time, administration officials said they believed a new round of talks was just weeks away.
Four senior U.S. officials accompanying Pompeo to the annual Association of Southeast Asian Nations regional security forum said North Korea's decision not to attend the conference, which has in the past served as venue for high-level engagement between the two countries, had been a surprise to both the Thai hosts and the other participants. One of those officials said the North's absence was mentioned by every delegation that Pompeo and top U.S. envoy Stephen Biegun met with in Bangkok.
"Unfortunately, the North Koreans missed this opportunity," said the official, who like the others was not authorized to discuss the closed-door discussions publicly and spoke on condition of anonymity. The official added that the North's absence "probably hurts their own interests" and that its failure thus far to agree to a new round of negotiations "is not a positive or constructive response by them."
Although Trump himself has downplayed the missile launches, this official said the recent tests — two of which took place during the ASEAN meeting — were unhelpful provocations that had been a "huge mistake" that caused "self-inflicted damage on their own part." The official said that assessment was widely shared by U.S. partners and that the missile tests may have had the unintended consequence of galvanizing sentiment against the North.
Any convergence of opinion on the North may be one of the few positives to emerge on what had been a full and ambitious agenda for Pompeo in Bangkok.
As he arrived on Wednesday, trade talks between the U.S. and China concluded without result in Shanghai, and Trump then announced new tariffs on Chinese imports in a move that angered Beijing shortly after Pompeo met with China's foreign minister. Then on Friday, Japan downgraded South Korea's trade status, prompting a stern response from the South and escalatory steps by both sides that could jeopardize U.S. interests in both allied countries and more broadly in the Asia-Pacific.
As the situation between Seoul and Tokyo deteriorated on Friday, Pompeo hosted his Japanese and South Korean counterparts at an uncomfortable trilateral meeting on the sidelines of the ASEAN conference. Two senior U.S. officials involved in that discussion acknowledged the seriousness of the dispute but said it was encouraging that the meeting took place at all given the developments.
One of the two officials said the dispute would not affect cooperation on North Korea, while the other expressed hope that tensions could be eased without significant U.S. involvement. The second official said there is "no upside to getting in the middle of this" and suggested that a series of unspecified de-escalatory steps could be taken by each country to prevent the dispute from spiraling.
Sanaa, Aug 4 (AP/UNB) — Yemeni officials and tribal leaders said security forces were pursuing al-Qaida militants Saturday in the southern Abyan province, leaving at least seven extremists and one soldier dead.
The fighting came a day after al-Qaida attacked and overran a military camp in the same province, killing at least 20 soldiers.
The troops chasing the militants through the mountainous areas of al-Mahfad district are part of a force trained by the United Arab Emirates, a member of the Saudi-led coalition fighting the Houthi rebels since 2015.
The officials spoke on condition of anonymity as they were not allowed to talk to reporters. The tribal leaders asked to remain anonymous for fear of retaliation.
In a statement, the security forces confirmed the soldier's death and that the military camp was retaken Friday.
Jakarta, Aug 3(AP/UNB) — A strong earthquake that hit off Java island killed four people and damaged more than 200 houses, swaying buildings as far away as Indonesia's capital, officials said Saturday.
The U.S. Geological Survey said Friday night's magnitude 6.8 quake was centered 151 kilometers (94 miles) from Banten province off Java's southwest coast.
Agus Wibowo, the National Disaster Mitigation Agency's spokesman, said four people died while fleeing in panic to safety in Banten and West Java. Four others were injured.
Wibowo said 223 houses were damaged, mostly in Banten's Pandeglang region, where a deadly tsunami struck in the dark without warning last December.
Hundreds of people who had fled to temporary shelters returned home, Wibowo said.
The quake was felt in Jakarta, the capital, where buildings swayed for nearly a minute. Television footage showed workers and residents running out of high-rise buildings in the city.
Indonesia, home to more than 260 million people, is prone to earthquakes and volcanic eruptions due to its location along the Pacific "Ring of Fire."