Pro-independence Protests In Indian Kashmir

12 September 2008
Associated Press

Srinagar: Tens of thousands of Muslims joined pro-independence rallies across Indian-controlled Kashmir on Friday, leading to scattered clashes with police that left at least two protesters dead and dozens injured. Separatist leaders called for Muslims across the restive Himalayan region to protest Indian rule after Friday prayers, but police clamped down on the demonstrations because they violated an order barring gatherings of more than five people, said senior police official B. Srinivas. He said police used tear gas and batons and, in at least one town, live ammunition to disperse the crowds. In Shopian, a town about 40 miles (60 kilometers) south of Srinagar, the region's biggest city, one protester was killed and 19 people were injured, including six police officers, in clashes between demonstrators and protesters, according to doctors and police officials. Mohammed Yousuf, a doctor in Shopian's main hospital, said seven of the injured were in critical condition. A second protester was killed in Baramulla, a town north of Srinagar, when he was hit with a tear gas shell, said a local police officer who spoke on the condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to speak to the media. In Srinagar, a prominent separatist leader, Mohammed Yasin Malik, was injured when police swung batons and fired tear gas at the crowd, said Altaf Khan, a spokesman for Malik's group, the Jammu-Kashmir Liberation Front. It was not immediately clear how Malik was injured, but he was rushed to a hospital where he was being examined, said Wasim Qureshi, the medical superintendent of Sri Maharaja Harish Singh hospital in Srinagar. Dozens of others were injured, Khan said, as were five police officers. Mirwaiz Omer Farooq, a key separatist leader, warned Indian authorities that the situation could spiral out of control if they 'use force to break peaceful protests.' 'India is trying to convert this peaceful resistance movement into a violent one so that it can invent a reason to clamp down on us,' Farooq told the congregation at Srinagar's main mosque. 'Its consequences are going to be disastrous.' The protests were organized by several prominent separatist leaders, including Malik, who spearheaded two months of demonstrations in recent months that were some of the biggest anti-India protests in decades. The unrest left at least 43 people dead, most of them killed when soldiers opened fire on Muslim protesters. Kashmir has been divided between Hindu-majority India and predominantly Muslim Pakistan since 1947 when the two fought their first war over the region in the aftermath of Britain's bloody partition of the subcontinent. Both countries continue to claim all of Kashmir. Separatist movements in Indian-controlled Kashmir remained peaceful until 1989, when Islamic insurgents took up arms seeking to win independence for the territory or its merger with Pakistan. The fighting has killed an estimated 68,000 people. Until the recent unrest, violence had ebbed considerably since India and Pakistan began a peace process in 2004. The longtime rivals have yet to achieve a breakthrough in their efforts to settle the Kashmir dispute.