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Pakistan army chief gets three-year extension

By Saad Sayeed

ISLAMABAD (Reuters) - Pakistan's army chief, General Qamar Javed Bajwa, was handed a three-year extension on Monday as tension with neighboring India flared this month over the disputed territory of Kashmir, the prime minister's office said.

The two nuclear-armed countries have exchanged fire along the disputed line of control (LoC) that separates Pakistani and Indian controlled Kashmir following India's decision to revoke special status for its portion of Kashmir.

"The decision has been taken in view of the regional security environment," the prime minister's office said in a statement announcing the decision.

Bajwa's tenure was due to end in November but analysts have long predicted the extension.

Relations between Pakistan and India had already been strained after a suicide car bombing in February that killed at least 40 Indian paramilitary police in Indian-controlled Kashmir and led to an aerial dogfight between Pakistani and Indian jets.

Pakistan observed a 'Black Day' on Thursday to coincide with India's Independence Day celebrations. Newspaper issues had black borders and politicians, including Prime Minister Imran Khan, replaced their social media pictures with black squares. Flags on government buildings flew at half-mast.

Since Saturday there has been a series of protests against the decision by Prime Minister Narendra Modi's Hindu nationalist government to revoke the autonomy of India's only Muslim-majority region.

Officials said security forces had been pelted with stones on 47 occasions on Saturday night in the Kashmir Valley, and more than 20 on Sunday. One said the protests were growing more intense.

During Bajwa's tenure the military has been accused by opposition politicians of electoral manipulation to bring Prime Minister Imran Khan to power. Media outlets have also complained about strong restrictions on free speech.

The military, which has ruled Pakistan for nearly half its 72-year history, has denied interfering in politics or muzzling the media.

(Writing by Saad Sayeed; Editing by Clarence Fernandez)

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