August 25, 2008

Curfew is Imposed in Kashmir Valley Before Separatist Protest

The authorities imposed an indefinite curfew in Indian Kashmir on Sunday before a separatist rally, the latest in a series of protests against Indian rule in the disputed Himalayan region.

In the past two weeks, Kashmir has seen some of the biggest pro- independence demonstrations since a separatist revolt against New Delhi broke out in the region in 1989.

Separatist leaders plan to address a huge rally on Monday in Lal Chowk in the heart of Srinagar, the summer capital of Kashmir, where a three-day strike called by separatists began Saturday.

"As a precautionary measure, curfew has been imposed from 4 a.m. today," a government statement said, adding that there were threats to the lives of some of the separatist leaders. The statement did not give further details.

Separatists said that the rally planned for Monday would go ahead despite the curfew.

"In fact government is trying to target us, they killed Sheik Aziz and scores of innocent people," said one hard-line separatist leader, Syed Ali Shah Geelani. "Now they are trying to suppress our peaceful struggle."

Sheik Abdul Aziz, a senior separatist leader, was among 23 Muslim protesters killed by the police during the past two weeks. More than 500 people have been injured in clashes.

The protests were set off after a dispute with the region's Hindus over transfer of land to a Hindu shrine trust, bolstering separatist sentiments in Kashmir, India's only Muslim-majority state.

Geelani said that more than two dozen activists of the region's main separatist alliance had been arrested.

Thousands of police officers and soldiers were patrolling the region's empty streets to enforce the curfew. Police vehicles mounted with loudspeakers were asking people to remain indoors.

On Saturday evening, hundreds of Muslims took to the streets in Srinagar carrying torches and shouting, "Go, India, go! We want freedom."

The land dispute began after the state government promised to give a forest tract to a Hindu trust that runs the cave shrine of Amarnath. Many Muslims were enraged, leading the government to rescind its decision. That move angered Hindus in Jammu, where thousands have protested the revocation of the land order and criticized the government for "pandering to separatists."

At least 10 people have been killed in weeks of protests in Jammu, where Hindus attacked trucks carrying supplies to the Kashmir Valley and often blocked the region's highway, the only surface link with the rest of India. Kashmiri Muslims, challenging what they said was an economic blockade, then took to the streets, in protests that have revived separatist sentiments.

Originally published by Reuters.

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