Kashmir Shrine Fire Sparks Protest

5 July 2008
The News International

Srinagar: Thirty people were injured in clashes with the police after thousands of angry protesters gathered outside the Jenab Sahib shrine that caught fire here on Saturday. Residents alleged that the shrine was set on fire by the police and the paramilitary Central Reserve Police Force. There was a loud sound that was followed by a fire in the shrine, said Sabzar Ahmed, a local resident. The news of fire at the shrine, which is said to house a relic of Prophet Muhammad (PBUH), drew thousands of Muslims onto the surrounding streets. They attacked a nearby police station, pelting it with stones, said Prabhakar Tripathi, a spokesman for the Central Reserve Police. The police fired tear-gas shells and used batons to disperse the protesters, he said, adding that three paramilitary soldiers were injured. He denied authorities were involved in damaging the shrine. These are baseless allegations levelled to foment trouble, Tripathi said. In fact, we brought the fire engines to extinguish the fire, he added. He said the shrine was only partially damaged and all its holy relics were safe. The held Kashmir police chief, Shiv Murari Sahai, said authorities were investigating the fire, but that it seemed accidental. Some 30 people, including eight journalists, five policemen and six firemen, were injured in the melee, the police said. Meanwhile, Shops and businesses remained closed here on Saturday and public transport stayed off the roads because of a strike called by leaders of the All Parties Hurriyat Conference Syed Ali Shah Geelani and Mirwaiz Umer Farooq, saying that Kashmiri leader Shabbir Ahmed Shah was injured by the police while leading a rally here on Friday.