Six rebels and an army soldier were killed in a gun battle in India-administered Kashmir on Sunday, officials said, sparking violent protests by residents seeking an end to Indian rule over the disputed region and leaving a teenage boy dead and 20 people wounded.
Indian army spokesman Col Rajesh Kalia said Indian troops surrounded a village in Shopian area early Sunday, leading to an exchange of gunfire in which six rebels were killed. An army soldier was killed and another wounded in the fighting, he said.
The incident triggered anti-India protests and clashes as hundreds of people marched near the site of the gun battle in solidarity with rebels as the fighting raged in the area.
A teenage boy was killed and 20 people were wounded when troops fired bullets, shotgun pellets and tear gas to confront the stone-throwing protesters, police and residents said.
Mirwaiz Umar Farooq, a popular pro-independence leader, called for "urgent appeal for help to stop this genocide", in a tweet.
"We make a fervent appeal to international community to help stop the massacre of Kashmiris unleashed by Indian forces," he wrote.
The killings capped one of the bloodiest weeks in the region this year, during which 16 rebels and two Indian soldiers were among 23 people killed.
So far this year, 411 people have been killed in Kashmir. More than half were guerrillas fighting Indian rule. It is the highest toll since 2008 when 505 people died.
Critics say Indian forces were escalating tensions in the restive region ahead of general elections next year in order to look tough on Pakistan and the armed revolt.
"Dead bodies of Kashmiris unfortunately sell well in Indian elections," said Khurram Parvez, programme coordinator at the rights group Jammu Kashmir Coalition of Civil Societies.
"The mindset dominant in India now is that by escalating violence, the people of Kashmir will be pressured to surrender."
The UN human rights chief, in a first-of-its-kind report in June, called for a major investigation into abuses in Kashmir and the "chronic impunity" for violations perpetrated by troops there.
The findings accused Indian troops of 145 unlawful killings, far surpassing the 20 people estimated to have been killed by militant groups over the study period.
New Delhi rejected the report, blasting it as "fallacious".
71 years of dispute
Kashmir is divided between rivals India and Pakistan since 1947 when the British vacated the sub continent, and both claim the territory in its entirety.
Most Kashmiris support rebel demands that the territory be united either under Pakistani rule or as an independent country in a UN-agreed plebiscite, while also participating in civilian street protests against Indian control.
In recent years, mainly young Kashmiris have displayed open solidarity with the rebels and sought to protect them by engaging troops in street clashes during military operations.
Rebels have been fighting Indian control since 1989. India accuses Pakistan of arming and training the rebels, a charge Pakistan denies.
Islamabad says it only gives political, moral and diplomatic support to Kashmiris.
India has some 500,000 troops deployed in the tiny Himalayan region.
Nearly 100,000 people have been killed in the uprising and the ensuing Indian military crackdown.