Five Protesters Killed As Kashmir Violence Escalates

12 August 2008
Agence France-Presse

Srinagar: Indian troops shot dead five Muslim demonstrators in Kashmir Tuesday as they battled to control a new wave of protests against New Delhi's control over the disputed region, officials said. The rising casualties came the day after a leading separatist politician and four other protesters were killed by troops in the scenic valley. Indian security forces enforced a daylight curfew across the Himalayan region in a bid to prevent large-scale rioting and an escalation of a 19-year-old insurgency. Three protesters were gunned down on Tuesday near Bandipora, a town about 65 kilometres (40 miles) north of Indian Kashmir's summer capital Srinagar, police said. Two more protesters defying the security lockdown were killed in Lasjan, on the outskirts of Srinagar, doctors and witnesses told AFP. At least 30 others suffered bullet wounds, prompting the two main hospitals in Srinagar to cancel staff leave. Local television channels also issued appeals for blood donors. On Monday Sheikh Abdul Aziz, a moderate political leader, was shot and killed by Indian security forces during a protest near the Line of Control, which divides the Indian and Pakistani parts of Kashmir. 'We have imposed curfew to ensure the peaceful burial of Sheikh Aziz,' Indian Kashmir's police chief, Kuldeep Khuda, told reporters. Aziz, who was 52, was a top member of the All Parties Hurriyat Conference, an alliance of moderate Kashmiri separatist groups at the forefront of the political struggle against Indian rule. Aziz's body was being kept in Srinagar's Mughal-built Jamia Masjid mosque. Hundreds of mourners have stayed with the corpse, chanting 'We want freedom' and 'Long live Sheikh Aziz.' He was due to be laid to rest Tuesday, but mourners have said they will not do so unless two other separatist leaders - Mirwaiz Umar Farooq, a moderate, and Syed Ali Geelani, a hardliner - are allowed to lead the funeral. The current unrest stems from an order by the Kashmir government in June to donate a parcel of Kashmir land to a Hindu pilgrimage trust. The decision sparked a week of Muslim protests that left six people dead. The land transfer was then cancelled, but that sparked riots in Hindu-dominated Jammu, where Hindu hardliners began blocking the only road access to the Kashmir valley - a move that has badly hit Muslim traders. Muslims in the south of Jammu and Kashmir state have also been attacked by Hindu vigilantes. The blockade has led to shortages of essentials, prompting Monday's massive protest march to Pakistan so fruit growers and traders can sell their goods on the other side of the border. But the latest unrest also underscores what locals say is the boiling resentment about the fact that the peace process between India and Pakistan - launched in 2004 - has led to no progress on the thorny Kashmir issue. The divided region, held in part but claimed in full by both nuclear-armed neighbours, has caused two wars between the two countries. Kashmiris live in the midst of a massive Indian army and paramilitary security contingent, and there are regular complaints of human rights abuses - including torture and disappearances - by Indian troops. Despite several years of relative calm in the valley, India refuses to cut troop numbers as it says the danger from Pakistan and militant infiltrators is still too great.