LoC march blocked, Hurriyat leader among five killed in police firing

11 August 2008
The Indian Express
Muzamil Jaleel

CHAHAL (SRINAGAR-MUZAFFARABAD ROAD): For 17 km, the tarmac was not visible as men, women and children - many on foot, others in trucks, buses and on bikes — packed the highway today, attempting to cross the Line of Control in protest against the “economic blockade” of the Valley by those leading the Amarnath land transfer agitation in Jammu. At Chahal, ahead of the Rampur Brigade barricade, police opened fire, felling five persons, including Hurriyat leader Sheikh Abdul Aziz who later succumbed to injuries. At least five persons were killed and some 200 injured as protestors, attempting to march to the LoC and then on to Muzaffarabad, clashed with police at several places. Baramulla district hospital officials said 40 people had been brought in with bullet injuries. Of these, 25 who appeared to be in critical condition were shifted to Srinagar. Curfew was imposed in Srinagar city and Pulwama. Although the march to the LoC was stopped at Chahal, thousands are still camping there. Hurriyat leader Shabir Shah too is there. In Srinagar, police stopped a procession at Qamarwari Chowk. When the protestors hit back, police opened fire, killing a youth. Pitched battles continued throughout the day. The march towards the LoC, however, began from Sangrama where police said nearly 30,000 people had come in processions from Sopore and adjoining areas. The crowd attacked a police contingent, which had put up barricades to prevent the march, and burnt two police vehicles. An Additional Superintendent of Police was injured and policemen were forced to retreat. Baramulla SSP Anand Jain told The Indian Express that as per their estimate over 1.5 lakh people were in the procession. “It was massive. People were joining the procession from every locality after it started out from Sopore. After the attack on the police team at Sangrama, we decided to let them go and stop them at a place where it is manageable. If we had stopped them anywhere near Baramulla or any other town, they would have burnt everything. There was a lot of anger.” He said there were more than 700 trucks in the procession. “We didn’t count the other vehicles.” Vehicles of all kinds packed the road and there were people everywhere till Khanpora, a kilometre ahead of Baramulla town. To avoid any confrontation, the Army even vacated its bunkers along the highway. The police too were not visible. The procession halted for half-an-hour at Khanpora and then headed towards Uri. “This procession makes it very clear what people of Kashmir really want,” said 24-year-old Ashfaq Ahmad from Sangrama. “People are facing a lot of problems (due to the blockade). This is the only alternative.” For 21 km, there was no stopping the procession. But at Chahal, the police and the CRPF were waiting. A moat had ben dug, slicing the road to halt the march. When teargas shells failed to scatter the crowd, police opened fire. Hurriyat leaders Shabir Shah and Sheikh Abdul Aziz, who had managed to evade arrest, appeared on the scene. Minutes before he was shot, Aziz told The Indian Express that he was going to try and pacify the crowd. Waving their hands, Aziz and Shah walked ahead but suddenly Aziz fell, brought down by a bullet. The crowds retreated and Aziz, bleeding profusely, was carried away. He later died in a Srinagar hospital. In Baramulla, as the injured were brought to the district hospital, violence erupted on the streets. Police opened fire, leaving at least six injured. SSP Jain said the protestors were targeting everything in sight. He said a small group tried to attack Shalputri and Hanuman temples but the CRPF opened fire and pushed them away. “They burnt the police station at Sheeri near Chahal. Then they burnt the house of our Station House Officer,” he said.