Saturday, September 13, 2008

Pro-freedom demonstrations crushed in Kashmir

Two killed, 80 wounded in Indian Kashmir clashes

Sheikh Mushtaq | Reuters North American News Service

Sep 12, 2008 09:31 EST

SRINAGAR, India, Sept 12 (Reuters) - Two people were killed and 80 wounded in Indian Kashmir on Friday when troops fired bullets and teargas shells to break up renewed protests by Muslims against New Delhi’s rule in the disputed region.

The shooting took place in two separate towns near Srinagar, the summer capital of Kashmir, as several thousand worshippers demonstrated after weekly Friday prayers.

“I saw several people falling down when forces fired indiscriminately,” witness Muzamil Ahmad told Reuters by telephone. At least 21 people were hit by bullets and were rushed to a local hospital, officials said.

Protesters later threw stones in clashes with police, witnesses said.

“Oppressors, get out of Kashmir,” shouted the Srinagar protesters.

Clashes between police and stone-throwing protesters broke out in several other areas of Kashmir, witnesses said.

Earlier on Friday, Yasin Malik, a senior separatist leader and chief of the Jammu Kashmir Liberation Front (JKLF), was injured when police used teargas and batons to disperse thousands of demonstrators he was leading in Srinagar.

Malik shouted “Allahu Akbar (God is Greatest), we will break the chains,” before police fired teargas, witnesses said.

“Malik fell unconscious and was immediately removed to the hospital,” said Showkat Bakhshi, a JKLF spokesman.

At least 37 protesters have been killed by government forces in the Muslim-majority Kashmir Valley since last month, when some of the largest pro-independence rallies broke out since a revolt against New Delhi’s rule in 1989.

More than 1,000 people have been injured in the protests, sparked by a decision to grant land for shelters to Hindus for an annual pilgrimage to Kashmir, one of the most militarized regions in the world.

Authorities deployed thousands of troops across the valley to prevent demonstrations called by the region’s different separatist factions.

Indian troops have been criticised by Kashmiris and international human rights groups for using excessive force to quell protests in the Himalayan region.

Officials say violence involving Indian troops and Muslim militants has declined significantly since India and Pakistan, who claim the region in full but rule in parts, started a slow-moving peace process in 2004.

But people are still killed in shootouts and occasional explosions.

Separately, Indian security forces shot dead five militants in gunbattles in southern Kashmir on Friday, police said.

Tens of thousands of people have been killed in the strife-torn region since Muslim rebels launched a violent campaign opposing Indian rule in Kashmir twenty years ago. (Editing by Bappa Majumdar and Paul Tait) (For the latest Reuters news on India see in.reuters.com, for blogs see blogs.reuters.com/in)

Source: Reuters North American News Service

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