NEW DELHI, Sept. 15 (UPI) -- Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh called for calm Wednesday in violence-wracked Kashmir so discussions on the crisis can occur.
Leaders of India's main political parties discussed whether to ease harsh security laws in Indian-administered Kashmir, looking for a plan to end months of increasingly violent separatist protests in the region, Pakistan's English-language newspaper Dawn reported..
"I was shocked and distressed to see young men and women -- even children -- joining the protests on the streets," Singh said before the debates began.
Under existing law, army personnel can search homes, make arrests without warrants, shoot at suspected separatists and destroy a building or home if they suspect insurgent activities are occurring inside.
Control of Kashmir is divided between India and Pakistan. Both countries claim the whole region and have fought two wars over it. During the past three summers, thousands of protesters demonstrated in the streets, stoning troops and demanding independence from India or a merger with Pakistan.
On Monday, 18 protesters were died in street fights aggravated by reports of Koran desecration in the United States. Authorities imposed a 24-hour curfew in the territory, threatening to shoot violators on sight.
"I have said this earlier and I say it again: The only path for lasting peace and prosperity in Jammu and Kashmir is that of dialogue and discussion," he said.
Some Cabinet ministers and the opposition Bharatiya Janata Party oppose even a partial easing of the law, saying it would lead to more violence, Dawn said.
"We want peace to return to Kashmir," Bharatiya Janata Party leader Arun Jaitley said. "But it cannot return if separatists have a free hand and the army's hands are tied."