Two Dead As Riots Escalate In Held Kashmir

25 June 2008
Agence France-Presse

Srinagar: Two people were killed and 75 wounded in Occupied Kashmir Wednesday as police fought running battles with protesters furious over the provision of land to Hindu yatrees, officials said. In the third consecutive day of rioting, most government offices, businesses and schools in Srinagar were forced to shut, while protests spread to other parts of the Kashmir valley. Three protesters have died, one on Monday and two on Wednesday. All three were killed by police using live ammunition to disperse the rioters, witnesses and medical sources said. Officials said four Hindu yatrees and 24 members of the Indian police and paramilitary forces deployed to the area were among the 150 people reported wounded since Monday. Protests have gripped Srinagar since the local government decided last week to allocate land to the Shri Amarnathji Shrine Board, a Hindu trust, so it could build 'temporary structures' for tens of thousands of Hindu yatrees who make an annual pilgrimage to a mountain grotto. Faced with rapidly deteriorating security, the state's puppet chief minister issued an appeal for calm and vowed no accommodation for Hindu yatrees would be built until further notice. 'I request all to maintain peace and brotherhood,' Ghulam Nabi Azad told a news conference, promising an 'all-party meeting to reach a consensus on how to deal with the issue.' 'Until that happens, no construction will be allowed on the land in question,' the state leader said. Hindu yatrees trek each year to a Himalayan cave in Occupied Kashmir that sits at an altitude of 3,800 metres. They consider the cave shrine of Amarnath to be an abode of the god Shiva. Kashmiri freedom fighting leaders say building accommodation for yatrees at the base of the mountain will 'reinforce India's occupation' of a part of Kashmir. They also say it will damage the mountain environment.'It is a conspiracy to settle non-local Hindus in Kashmir valley with a view to reducing the Muslims to a minority,' said APHC leader Syed Ali Geelani. The protests showed no sign of ending. The latest killing on Wednesday evening - of a 16- year-old Kashmiri in a police firing in Srinagar's Fateh Kadal area - brought thousands of protesters onto the streets. They chanted, 'We want freedom' and 'Indians leave Kashmir,' said an AFP correspondent at the scene. More teams of federal paramilitary troops were also seen being deployed in central Srinagar.