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Clashes continue across Kashmir

Praveen Swami

Despite relaxation of curfew, dozens injured in continuing violence

SRINAGAR: Even as New Delhi mounted desperate efforts to initiate a dialogue with the leaders of the Islamist movement, which set large parts of Jammu and Kashmir ablaze this week, clashes between protesters and police continued across the troubled region.

Governor N.N. Vohra met top advisers and policy makers on Wednesday morning to discuss means to still the wave of violence unleashed when the protesters attempted to march across the Line of Control on Monday.

He asked that curfew imposed in most major cities to be lifted, and ordered police to observe restraint. However, mobs continued to fight police across much of the region, leaving at least 40 people injured, four seriously.

Much of the worst fighting came in locations where small groups of police personnel found themselves surrounded by angry mobs —a repetition of events through this week, where large crowds have often succeeded in assembling because of poor coordination between police and the army.

Some of the worst fighting in Srinagar came near Rajpora, near the central Kashmir town of Pulwama, after a mob of several hundred local residents surrounded an outpost of the Central Reserve Police Force’s 183 Battalion. Soon after the mob set fire to a nearby school building, the panicked police personnel opened fire, seriously injuring four people. At least 35 others were hurt in a stampede which followed.

Srinagar residents Tanveer Ahmad and Sohail Ahmad Baba were also shot by police in clashes that broke out after a CRPF bunker was attacked and damaged.

Mobs up to several hundreds strong attacked police in several Srinagar areas, including Habbakadal, Fatehkadal, Safakadal and Chattabal. At least 23 locals were hurt in the clashes, as well as five police personnel. Government buildings, including Srinagar’s municipal headquarters, were targeted for arson. Similar clashes were reported from Sopore, Ganderbal.

Despite calls from secessionist leaders for calm, local mob leaders made several efforts to initiate violence with police, an effort evidently intended to sustain the tempo of the protests.

Local clerics in Srinagar’s Chhota Bazaar area, for example, called on residents to march in protest against CRPF personnel who they claimed had broken down the windowpanes of two local mosques.

The former People’s Democratic Party legislator Sheikh Bashir’s home near Rajpora, in Pulwama, was attacked and torched, while in the central Kashmir town of Kangan, a mob of some 250 people hoisted a Pakistani flag in an apparent effort to provoke a showdown with police.

Buoyed by the continued response to their movement and the evident failure of New Delh’s efforts to hammer out a consensus to end the violence, secessionist leaders in Jammu and Kashmir have stepped up the heat on the government.

After a rally in Pulwama, secessionist leaders Mirwaz Umar Farooq and Syed Ali Shah Geelani issued a joint statement calling for continued protests against the reign of terror and tyranny unleashed by the occupation forces.

Both leaders demanded the opening of the Srinagar-Muzaffarabad road so that Kashmiris can import necessities for their survival. It is unclear precisely what shortages the communiqué referred to, since Kashmir has not been reporting shortages of essential supplies and commercial traffic on the Srinagar-Jammu highway is at near-normal.

However, secessionist leaders have been claiming the Kashmir valley is being subjected to an economic blockade.

Much of the joint communiqué focussed on political issues, asking for a repeal of the Armed Forces Special Powers Act and the Disturbed Areas Act, the withdrawal of criminal cases filed against secessionists since 1987, and the release of individuals held in prisons across India for their involvement in terrorist violence — a category of prisoners the All Parties Hurriyat Conference refers to as freedom fighters.

More violence is feared on Thursday, when funeral processions are held for three protesters shot earlier and who died in hospital on Wednesday. Srinagar residents Faisal Ahmad and Hafizullah Bhat had been shot in the August 11 clashes with the police, while Bandipora resident Mehraj-ud-Din was fired on by troops who say he was part of a mob that attacked a military outpost near Paribal.

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