Kashmir Capital Shuts To Protest Indian President's Visit

24 May 2008

Srinagar: Islamic separatists staged a general strike in Kashmir's summer capital Srinagar on Saturday to protest a visit by India's president to the revolt-hit region. Businesses closed and schools and colleges declared the day a holiday in line with the strike call by the hardline wing of the separatist Hurriyat Conference alliance. The strike to protest the visit by President Pratibha Patil was also backed by the powerful Islamic rebel group Hizbul Mujahedin, which is fighting New Delhi's rule in India's only Muslim-majority state. Traffic was also thin in Srinagar, the urban hub of the secessionist drive in Indian-administered Kashmir. Indian soldiers backed by police declared several areas of the city 'out of bounds' for civilians to ensure Patil's security during her visit. Patil, elected India's first woman president last year, arrived here on Friday on a four-day official trip to the region, which borders Pakistan. On Friday she warned that India would retaliate 'resolutely and firmly' against any violations of the heavily militarised border. 'I'm confident that any violation of our borders will be dealt with resolutely and firmly,' Patil said in a speech to soldiers at a camp in Baramulla town, 55 kilometres (35 miles) north of summer capital Srinagar. The warning by Patil, who is also supreme commander of India's armed forces, came after forward Indian posts came under fire from across the Line of Control (LoC) three times this month. In one incident, an Indian soldier was killed. The LoC or ceasefire line splits Kashmir between nuclear-armed rivals India and Pakistan. The two nations each hold part of the region but claim it in full and have fought two of their three wars for control of Kashmir. The insurgency has left more than 43,000 people dead by official count. Earlier this week, India's foreign minister Pranab Mukherjee held talks with Pakistani President Pervez Musharraf in Islamabad, with the neighbours expressing optimism about their slow-moving four-year-old peace process.