AHMEDABAD, India: Hundreds of Hindu nationalist protesters marched in the Indian state of Gujarat on Saturday, prompting the closure of stores owned by several multinational companies caught up in a furore over social media posts supporting disputed Kashmir.
The messages were posted last week by the Pakistani branches of firms including Hyundai Motor, Kia Motors, fast food chain Domino's Pizza and Yum Brand Inc's Pizza Hut and KFC, which also operate in India.
They were issued by the companies on Feb. 5 to coincide with Pakistan's Kashmir Solidarity Day, held annually to commemorate the sacrifices of Kashmiris struggling for self-determination, and caused anger among social media users in India.
"These companies cannot be doing business in India and at the same time supporting Pakistan's stand on Kashmir," Dinesh Navadiya, national treasurer of Hindu nationalist organisation Vishva Hindu Parishad (VHP), told Reuters during a protest in the city of Surat.
Shouting slogans such as "Kashmir is Ours" and wearing saffron scarves, more than 100 members of Bajrang Dal, another Hindu nationalist group, also joined the protest - one of several held in Gujarat, the home state of Prime Minister Narendra Modi.
Both the VHP and Bajrang Dal are linked to Modi's ruling Bhartiya Janata Party (BJP).
The furore has highlighted the risks faced by companies operating in India and arch rival Pakistan, which control parts of Kashmir but both claim the Himalayan territory in full.
India says Pakistan supports an armed insurrection against New Delhi's rule in India-controlled Kashmir that broke out in 1990. Pakistan denies the charge and says it only provides diplomatic and moral support for the Kashmiri people.
"We protested peacefully against these companies for the tweets by their Pakistani affiliates in support of Kashmir," said Hitendrasinh Rajput, spokesperson for the VHP's state unit in Gujarat's largest city of Ahmedabad.
"We want to make it clear to these companies and others that Kashmir is an inseparable part of India," Rajput said.
Companies including Hyundai, Kia, Domino's Pizza, Yum Brand's Pizza Hut and KFC, Japan's Suzuki Motor, Honda Motor and Isuzu Motor issued apologies as criticism grew over the posts.
(Writing by Nidhi Verma Editing by Helen Popper) ((email@example.com; +91 11 49548031; Reuters Messaging: firstname.lastname@example.org))