Police Teargas Protesters Opposing Help To Hindu Pilgrims

20 June 2008

Srinagar: Police in Indian Kashmir fired teargas and used batons against protesters angered by a decision to transfer forest land to Hindu pilgrims visiting the Muslim-majority region. The government last week said the land was being transferred to Shri Amarnathji Shrine Board so it can build 'temporary structures' for tens of thousands of Hindu pilgrims who trek to a Himalayan cave every year. The cave shrine of Amarnath sits at an altitude of 3,800 metres (12,800 feet) and is considered an abode of the god Shiva. Separatist politicians say building accommodation for pilgrims at the base of the mountain will ruin the fragile ecology of the area and also 'reinforce India's occupation' of part of the disputed region. On Friday scores of protesters came out of Srinagar's main mosque and chanted anti-government and pro-Islamic slogans. The protesters tried to march towards the town's main commercial centre when police charged at them with batons and later fired teargas, an AFP reporter at the scene said. Several people were hurt. Until now authorities have been erecting tents for Hindu pilgrims. But last year more than 400,000 pilgrims visited the cave, prompting demands for better facilities. Kashmir is in the grip of an 18-year-old insurgency that has left more than 43,000 people dead by official count.