Abdullah, Mufti forced to stay in airport by agitators (Lead)

August 1st, 2008 - 6:30 pm ICT by IANS  

A file-photo of Amarnath Shrine

Jammu, Aug 1 (IANS) National Conference leader and former Jammu and Kashmir chief minister Farooq Abdullah and People’s Democratic Party chief Mehbooba Mufti, who arrived here for an all-party meeting, were forced to stay at the airport for over three hours as agitators for Amarnath shrine land blocked their way out. Curfew was imposed in the city after the incident.

Worried security forces thought of rescuing the two state leaders and flying them out with helicopters to the Raj Bhavan for the all-party meeting. But as the word about the plans leaked and throngs of agitators dispersed, Abdullah and Mehbooba were moved by road, over three battalions of the state police and para-military forces virtually sealing the 12-km stretch.

Abdullah and Mehbooba Mufti flewn in from Srinagar to Jammu Friday for the all-party meeting called by Governor N.N. Vohra. After they were confined to the airport by the stone-throwing agitators demanding restoration of land to the Amarnath shrine management, the state government offered to airlift them to the Raj Bhavan but they declined.

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 was infructous.

“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.

Sharma earlier said the samiti would continue with its agitation and simultaneously hold talks. But, the change of mind came after several hundred protesters gathered around the houses of Tilak Raj and Sangarsh Samiti convenor Leela Karan asked them to get the land before starting any talks.

Mediapersons were hurriedly called and informed that the talks have broken down. “Talks have failed,” said Sharma.

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 SASB 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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