12 Injured In Kashmir Religious Riots: Police, Doctors

23 June 2008

Srinagar: At least 12 protesters were injured in clashes with police in Muslim-majority Indian Kashmir Monday as local anger mounted over the provision of land to visiting Hindu pilgrims, officials said. They included three people who were part of a stone-throwing crowd outside Srinagar's main mosque who were apparently hit by retaliatory police fire. Srinagar, the main town in the Indian part of the divided Himalayan region, has been gripped by demonstrations since the local government decided last week to allocate land to a Hindu trust assisting an annual pilgrimage to a mountain grotto. 'We had to open fire on stone pelting youth, which led to three persons being injured,' a police official told AFP on condition he not be named. Local police inspector Bashir Ahmed confirmed shots were fired but said authorities were 'investigating who fired at the protesters.' Doctors said nine other people were being treated for injuries sustained from tear gas and police baton charges against a string of protests around Srinagar. The doctors said the three men who suffered gunshot wounds were in critical condition. Police also put several senior separatists under house arrest to prevent them from leading protests and raided the home of prominent hardliner Syed Ali Geelani, an AFP reporter said. The government last week said the land was being transferred to the Shri Amarnathji Shrine Board so it could build 'temporary structures' for tens of thousands of Hindu pilgrims who trek to a Himalayan cave every year. 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. Hindus consider the cave shrine of Amarnath, which sits at an altitude of 3,800 metres (12,800 feet), as an abode of the god Shiva. In previous years, authorities have erected tents for pilgrims. But last year more than 400,000 pilgrims visited the cave, prompting demands for better facilities and more permanent structures. But even secular, pro-India political groups have called for revocation of the order to give land to pilgrims. 'It would be dangerous to allow the situation to drift any further. As a minimum required action, the state government should forthwith cancel the order,' former chief minister Mufti Mohammed Sayeed said. Kashmir is divided between nuclear-armed rivals India and Pakistan and claimed in full by both. The Kashmir valley around Srinagar is in the grip of an 18-year-old insurgency that has left more than 43,000 people dead by official count.