|Tuesday, August 12, 2008
HELD SRINAGAR: Police clamped a curfew on most of held Kashmir after a prominent Kashmiri leader was killed on Monday as tens of thousands of Muslims protested a road blockade by Hindus in held Kashmir.
All Parties Hurriyat Conference (APHC) central leader Sheikh Abdul Aziz was shot by police who were firing into the crowd as they tried to hold back the protesters.Aziz died after a bullet ruptured his liver, according to Manzoor Ahmed, the doctor who treated him.
There was no immediate comment from government officials. Three others were also killed and several dozen injured in the violence (APP put the death toll at seven). The demonstrators were attempting to march to Azad Kashmir to protest a blockade by Hindus of a key highway that links the Kashmir Valley with the rest of India.
The protests are the latest development in a political crisis that began in June with a dispute over land near a Hindu shrine and has exposed tensions between Muslims and Hindus in Kashmir.
The Hindu minority was angered when the state government reversed a decision to give 99 acres (40 hectares) of land to a Hindu trust to build facilities for pilgrims near a shrine. Muslims complained that the gift of land would alter the religious balance in the region.
Kashmiri traders have warned that the region faces shortages of food and medicine because of the blockade, and complain that hundreds of truckloads of Kashmiri fruit are spoiling because they cannot be delivered.
Traders said police and paramilitary soldiers also seized dozens of fruit-laden trucks and deflated the tires of other vehicles which the protesters had planned to drive during the procession. At least 50 people were taken to a hospital with injuries caused by bullets and tear gas, including one who later died, said Asif Drabu, a doctor at a hospital in Srinagar.
Another man was killed when police opened fire on angry protesters who torched two police vehicles near Sangrama, a village on the Srinagar-Muzaffarabad highway, a police official said on condition of anonymity because he was not authorised to speak to reporters.
In Chehel, where Aziz was shot, large crowds had pushed aside barricades set up by police and clashed with security officials who were stopping them from walking toward the Line of Control.
Another marcher in Chehel also suffered bullet injuries, local police said, again speaking on condition of anonymity. The area is about 28 miles (45 kilometres) from the ceasefire line but the spokesman for the Indian army in Srinagar has said that the “army has taken all precautionary measures to control the situation”.
“We want independence,” “Demolish the LoC,” the protesters chanted. In Azad Kashmir town of Chakothi, police fired tear gas to disperse a group trying to march up to the frontier. The road from Chakothi to the frontier was blocked by police and soldiers with barbed wire and iron sheets.
One policeman and three protesters were injured in scuffles between police and protesters who tried to break through the roadblock, said Uzair Ghazali, a spokesman for Hizbul Mujahi9deen. “Some people, who were emotional, tried to go toward the Line of Control but we stopped them,” said Chaudhry Imtiaz Ahmed, a senior government security official.