Protests In Kashmir Over Separatist Shooting

5 December 2009
Associated Press

Srinagar: Government forces fired tear gas in Indian Kashmir's main city Saturday to disperse hundreds of demonstrators protesting a near-fatal attack on a separatist leader by unidentified gunmen. Fazal Haq Qureshi, who has supported peace talks in Kashmir, was shot and critically wounded in Srinagar late Friday, said Farooq Ahmed, an inspector-general of police. Although no group has claimed responsibility, he blamed the attack on insurgents opposed to a dialogue with New Delhi. The All Parties' Hurriyat Conference, an alliance of separatist groups, called a shutdown strike in the city to protest the attack. Demonstrations erupted Saturday in various parts of the Srinagar. Chanting, 'We want freedom,' the protesters burnt tires and hurled rocks at police and paramilitary forces who swung batons and fired tear gas to disperse them. At least three paramilitary soldiers suffered minor injuries, a police officer said on condition of anonymity in keeping with department policy. Qureshi belongs to a moderate faction of the Hurriyat Conference willing to hold direct talks with the Indian government in a bid to settle the decades-old Kashmir dispute between India and Pakistan, although three previous rounds of talks ended in failure. Separatist leaders appear divided over whether to try again. Chief Minister Omar Abdullah, the top elected official of India's Jammu-Kashmir state, said the attack was 'an attempt to derail the peace process in Kashmir.' Nearly a dozen insurgent groups have been fighting for Kashmir's independence from India or its merger with neighboring Pakistan since 1989. More than 68,000 people, mostly civilians, have been killed in the conflict.