Land row: Kashmir protesters block traffic on Amarnath route (Roundup)

June 24th, 2008 - 5:49 pm ICT by IANS  

A file-photo of Ali G

Srinagar/Jammu, June 24 (IANS) Unruly protesters smashed windshields of vehicles carrying Hindu pilgrims in north Kashmir as demonstrations continued in Srinagar, the summer capital of Jammu and Kashmir, Tuesday against forestland transfer to the Shri Amarnath Shrine Board (SASB). Angry protesters at Beehama Chowk, 22 km from here in Ganderbal district, indulged in heavy stone pelting on vehicles including those carrying the pilgrims to the north Kashmir Baltal base camp for the Amarnath cave shrine in south Kashmir. They stopped traffic movement stranding hundreds of buses.

The mob also smashed window panes and furniture of a town hall, cafeteria and a bank in Ganderbal town. The police fired several rounds of tear-smoke shells and used heavy baton charge to disperse the furious protesters.

The Srinagar-Baltal route was closed following protests at many places along the north Kashmir route to the shrine, which houses a ‘lingam’, or a stalagmite structure that is seen as an icon of Lord Shiva, one of the Hindu Trinity.

Life remained paralysed in the valley as scores of protesters took to streets blocking traffic and shutting educational institutions and businesses in Srinagar city.

Thousands of mourners attended the funeral of Feroze Ahmad, 39, who was allegedly killed in firing by Central Reserve Police Force (CRPF) personnel in Nowhatta area of the old city Monday evening. Ahmad was injured while protesting against the land transfer.

The surcharged crowd carrying Ahmad’s body shouted slogans against the government and the SASB. Later, the slain person was buried in the martyrs’ graveyard at Eidgah in the old city area.

The land transfer to SASB, the board that manages the annual pilgrimage to the shrine, has snow-balled into a major controversy.

The land was allotted to the board to build temporary facilities for pilgrims.

But the critics, including mainstream and separatist political parties, allege that the shrine board would use it to raise permanent structures to settle non-Kashmiris, thereby changing the Muslim-majority character of the Kashmir Valley. They have been demanding immediate rescinding of the land allotment order.

The ruling Peoples Democratic Party (PDP), whose senior leaders met here at the residence of the party patron and former chief minister Mufti Muhammad Sayeed Monday evening, has given an ultimatum of June 30 to the government to revoke the order. Failing this, the PDP, according to its leaders, would be free to take a decision to withdraw from the ruling alliance.

Senior separatist leaders Syed Ali Geelani and Shabir Shah were put under house arrest by the authorities here in order to prevent their participation in the protests.

In Jammu, the winter capital, Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) activists blocked the Jammu-Srinagar National Highway asking the government not to cancel the order.

The BJP workers, led by their sole lawmaker in Jammu and Kashmir legislative assembly Jugal Kishore, raised anti-government slogans and forced the closure of the only motorable road link to the Kashmir Valley at Nagrota, 13 kms north of here. The blockade caused huge traffic snarls as all the vehicles to Katra, the base camp of Vaishno Devi, a Hindu shrine, also pass through the area.

Kishore told his supporters that cancellation of the order “will be dealt with severely”. He said the government should not interfere in the matter of faith.

Later, the protesters burnt effigies of Sayeed, Deputy Chief Minister Muzaffar Hussain Baig and National Conference patron Farooq Abdullah, who have been demanding the revocation of the order.

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