POLITICAL NEWS - The Indian government on Monday revoked Kashmir's special status, stripping the significant autonomy it has enjoyed for seven decades in a move expected to further inflame tensions in the Muslim-majority region and infuriate rival Pakistan.
India's Prime Minister Narendra Modi Hindu-nationalist party rushed through a presidential decree to scrap the disputed region's special status in the constitution, and also moved a bill proposing the territory be divided into two regions directly ruled by New Delhi.
The government imposed a security lockdown and cut all telecommunications in the Indian-administered part of Kashmir in the early hours of Monday after deploying tens of thousands of troops in the past week, claiming there was a terror threat.
Home Minister Amit Shah, a close ally of Modi, told parliament the president had issued a decree abolishing Article 370 of the constitution, which gives special autonomy to the Himalayan region.
The decree said the measure came into force "at once".
Kashmir has been divided between Indian and Pakistan since their independence in 1947. For three decades the Indian-administered part of the territory has been in the grip of an insurgency that has left tens of thousands dead.
Armed Kashmiri rebels and many residents have fought for the region's independence or to join neighbour Pakistan.
There were already growing fears among Kashmiris that the special status would be ditched after Modi's Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) obtained a large parliamentary majority in recent elections.
His party had vowed to fulfil a long-held promise to scrap the laws, and many fear New Delhi wants to change the region's demographics by allowing non-Kashmiris, mostly Hindus, to buy land locally.
The move is set to exacerbate the already bloody rebellion in Kashmir and deepen the long-running amorosity with nuclear rival Pakistan which has fought two out of three wars with India over the territory.
"There will a very strong reaction in Kashmir. It's already in a state of unrest and this will only make it worse," Wajahat Habibullah, a former senior bureaucrat in Jammu and Kashmir, told AFP.
'Darkest day for democracy'
The announcement sparked chaotic scenes in the national parliament, with opposition politicians shouting protests.
The main opposition Congress party described the decision as a "catastrophic step".
One lawmaker from the regional Kashmir-based Peoples Democratic Party tore up a copy of Indian constitution before being reportedly removed from the chambers by parliamentary marshals.
Former Kashmir chief minister Mehbooba Mufti tweeted that the latest move was the "darkest day in Indian democracy".
"Unilateral decision of GOI (government of India) to scrap Article 370 is illegal & unconstitutional which will make India an occupational force in J&K (Jammu and Kashmir)," she added.
In Pakistan, a representative of Prime Minister Imran Khan, Firdous Ashiq Awan, tweeted that his nation would continue to provide Kashmir with "moral, diplomatic and political support" until it achieves self-determination.
The unprecedented move followed days of uncertainty in the region that began on Friday when New Delhi ordered tourists and Hindu pilgrims to leave "immediately".
All phones, internet services and cable networks in the restive Himalayan region of more than seven million people were cut at midnight, and only residents issued with a curfew pass were allowed on the streets.
Article 370 of the Indian constitution gives special status to the state of Jammu and Kashmir. It limits the power of the Indian parliament to impose laws in the state, apart from matters of defence, foreign affairs and communications.