Finally, protests ease in Kashmir Valley, anger persists (Second lead)

August 13th, 2008 - 9:47 pm ICT by IANS  

Srinagar, Aug 13 (IANS) After a day of police firing and huge protests, mass anger over the Amarnath land row finally eased Wednesday in the Kashmir Valley. But the authorities warned that the situation remained serious as the death toll in Tuesday’s mayhem rose to 15. In comparison to the 40,000 who marched through Srinagar Tuesday with the body of Hurriyat leader Sheikh Abdul Aziz, who the police gunned down a day earlier, the biggest of the dozen demonstrations Wednesday attracted no more than 4,000 slogan-shouting people.

But violence persisted on the streets.

A policeman was beaten up and his motorcycle burnt in Srinagar, the urban hub of Jammu and Kashmir’s separatist campaign and the scene of the most violent protests over the allotment of land to the Amarnath shrine board — a decision since taken back by the government.

Mobs also torched the office of the Srinagar Development Authority (SDA) on the city’s outskirts and destroyed a bunker of the Central Reserve Police Force (CRPF), the paramilitary force blamed for firing at crowds.

Angry crowds made up mostly of young men fought pitched battles with the police at several places in Srinagar.

A portion of the SDA complex at Bemina was saved because the police reached the site soon after it was set on fire, officials said.

A mob in Charar-e-Sharief town in central Badgam district attacked a police post after policemen tried to disperse them following the burning of a forest department hut nearby.

Thousands of people shouting slogans demanding independence from India marched through Solina, Safa Kadal, Rajouri Kadal, Batmaloo and some other areas of Srinagar.

Curfew was imposed in the Kashmir Valley after large-scale violence Monday when thousands tried to march towards Pakistan, alleging an “economic blockade” of the valley by Hindu protestors in the Jammu region.

On Wednesday, the authorities relaxed curfew first from 8 a.m to 11 a.m. The relaxation was later extended to 2 p.m. and then again till 5 p.m.

Mobs resorted to violence during the curfew relaxation. A policeman driving a motorcycle in Safa Kadal area of the Old City during the curfew relaxation period was stopped and thrashed.

“Although the cop was in civvies, the mob identified him from his identity card,” a police officer said. “They set fire to his motorcycle and beat him up mercilessly.”

Protesters gathered near Safa Kadal, Rainawari and Bana Mohalla police stations of Old Srinagar and stoned them, said another officer.

“We are maintaining utmost restraint and trying to ensure that the situation is brought under control with minimum use of force,” the officer told IANS.

A petrol tanker was also set ablaze by protesters at Bemina. Officials said the arson attack immediately halted traffic on the road linking Jammu and the Kashmir Valley, causing hardships to people.

As the state continued to reel under protests, Governor N.N. Vohra called a high-level meeting at the Raj Bhavan to take stock of the situation.

Meanwhile, three people wounded in Tuesday’s firing by the police and army personnel succumbed to their injuries in hospitals, taking the death toll in Tuesday’s violence to 15.

Also Wednesday, massive protests were reported from Baramulla and Ganderbal districts in north Kashmir and Anantnag district in the south.

For the last two months, both the Hindu-majority Jammu region and the Muslim Kashmir Valley have been locked in unparalleled strife on communal lines over the transfer and subsequent revocation of 40 hectares of land to the Amarnath board. The board manages the annual pilgrimage to the shrine dedicated to Lord Shiva.

The burning issue set off a wave of protests, shutdowns and violence first in the Kashmir Valley, then in Jammu — and now back in the valley - virtually paralysing the state.

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