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Separatist among scores hurt in mass Kashmir protests PDF Print E-mail
Monday, 30 June 2008

REUTERS, SRINAGAR, India - Police fired bullets and teargas on Saturday to quell thousands of stone throwing Muslim demonstrators across Kashmir as anger grew over the transfer of forest land to a Hindu shrine trust.

Scores of people including chief of the separatist Jammu Kashmir Liberation Front (JKLF), Mohammad Yasin Malik, were hurt when protesters clashed with police in the heart of Srinagar.

The protests, which have widened to become pro-independence rallies, are some of the biggest since a separatist Muslim insurgency broke out in 1989. Pakistan and India rule Kashmir in parts but both claim the region.

"The present situation reminds me of 1990, it is all disturbing," Omar Abdullah, chief of Kashmir's main opposition, the National Conference party, said.

In the early 1990s, tens of thousands took to streets across the region demanding Kashmir's cessation from India.

The week-long protests started when authorities transferred nearly 100 acres of forest land in Kashmir to Shri Amarnathji Shrine Board (SASB), a Hindu trust, to erect temporary shelters for thousands of Hindu pilgrims who annually trek to a cave shrine in the Kashmir mountain.

Three people have been shot dead by police since protests broke out on Monday. Hundreds have been hurt in clashes.

Protesters say the land transfer was aimed at changing the demography of Kashmir, mainly Hindu India's Muslim-majority region. Environmentalists say any construction on forest land could ruin the region's fragile ecology.

Indian authorities have denied the charge.

JKLF, which declared a ceasefire in 1994 against Indian troops, is an influential separatist group and says it is fighting for Kashmir's complete freedom both from India and Pakistan.

"Malik was admitted to hospital, he is safe" Mohammad Amin, a police official said.

On Friday, tens of thousands of people waving green Islamic flags took to streets in Srinagar, tore down banners, billboards of pro-India parties, destroyed security bunkers and shouted "we want freedom."

Shops, businesses, schools and colleges remained closed in Kashmir for the sixth day on Saturday to protest the land move.

"Indians go back, return our land," the protesters shouted.

Tens of thousands of people have been killed in Kashmir in nearly two decades of insurgency.

During the two-month-long pilgrimage, thousands of devout Hindus from across India walk and ride ponies to the cave, situated at an altitude of 3,800 metres, to pray by an ice stalagmite they believe to be a symbol of Hindu god Lord Shiva.

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