Two killed, many injured in police firing as Jammu flares up (Third Lead)

August 1st, 2008 - 11:04 pm ICT by IANS  

A file-photo of Amarnath Shrine

Jammu, Aug 1 (IANS) The agitation over the Amarnath land row took a violent turn Friday as police firing on angry mobs left at least two people dead and more than a dozen injured in Samba town of Jammu district late Friday evening, triggering more clashes in the town and its surroundings. Irate mobs ransacked the Dak bungalow (government rest house), pelted stones at the local police station and blocked the Jammu-Pathankote highway that passes through the town while shouting slogans against Governor N.N. Vohra.

The police opened fire when protesters squatting on the highway refused to move away and clashed with the police. Fifteen people were injured in the police firing. Two of the injured died later, fuelling further anger in the town.

The police opened fire on curfew-defying mobs in Jammu and some other areas even as reports of communal clashes further heightened tension in the region over the Amarnath land row.

Men, women and children in thousands filled the streets and clashed with the police at many places, including outside the Raj Bhavan. They torched a police post at Panjtirthi area of the winter capital city of Jammu, close to the Raj Bhavan, where the governor was holding an all-party meet to seek a resolution to the continuing crisis over the land issue.

The agitators were protesting the presence of National Conference leader and former chief minister Farooq Abdullah and People’s Democratic Party chief Mehbooba Mufti at an all-party meeting Governor N.N.Vohra called here to discuss the Amarnath cave shrine land allotment row.

Several hundred people defied curfew here Friday afternoon and marched towards the Raj Bhavan to protest the arrival of “Kashmiri leaders” for talks on the Amarnath land row.

In Garkhal, an area close to the international border with Pakistan, a Hindu-Muslim clash took place after an angry mob set fire to the hay and mud huts of the Gujjars.

Police said at least two people were injured in Garkhal, while seven are reported injured in Samba.

The protesters held huge processions all across Jammu region, demanding that the land taken back from Shri Amarnath Shrine Board be returned to it forthwith.

Earlier on their arrival from Srinagar for the all-party meeting, Abdullah and Mehbooba Mufti were forced to stay within the airport for over three hours as the agitators blocked their way out. The agitators also pelted stones at the airport building and the security personnel.

In the wake of the airport incidents, curfew was imposed in the city, Samba and other nearby areas.

Worried security forces thought of rescuing the two state leaders and flying them out with helicopters to the Raj Bhavan for the meeting. But Farooq and Mehbooba declined to use the helicopter.

But as word about the plans leaked and the agitators dispersed, Abdullah and Mehbooba were taken by road, with over three battalions of the state police and para-military forces virtually sealing the 12-km stretch from the airport to the Raj Bhavan.

Earlier Friday, leaders of the Amarnath Yatra Sangarsh Samiti (AYSS), a conglomerate of 30 groups agitating for allocation of land to the Shri Amarnath Shrine Board, decided not to have further talks with Jammu and Kashmir Governor N.N. Vohra. The first round of talks Thursday had failed.

“It is pointless to talk to the governor again unless he sends us a concrete proposal on the land issue,” Tilak Raj Sharma, spokesperson for AYSS, told the media.

Although the governor has called a meeting of prominent residents of Jammu and also of the leaders of all parties, the agitation leaders have warned them against “making any compromise”.

Meanwhile, the Jammu shutdown entered the ninth day Friday. Shops, commercial establishments and educational institutions were closed.

The government May 26 allotted 40 hectares of forest land in north Kashmir to the Amarnath Shrine Board for creating “temporary and pre-fabricated” shelters for Hindu pilgrims to the Amarnath cave shrine.

But the order was revoked July 1 following violent protests in the Muslim-dominated Kashmir Valley, in which six people were killed. The protesters alleged that the land would be used to settle outsiders and change the Muslim-majority character of the valley.

The revocation order silenced the protests in Kashmir but ignited demonstrations in the Hindu-majority Jammu region, which has been reeling under curfews, shutdowns and violent protests for the past one month now.

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