Kashmir tense as fruit merchants gather to cross LoC

August 11th, 2008 - 2:51 pm ICT by IANS  


Sopore, Aug 11 (IANS) Tension gripped this centre of the apple trade in Kashmir Monday as thousands of fruit growers and people, alleging “economic blockade” by protesters in Jammu over the Amarnath land row, gathered here to march across the Line of Control (LoC) - the de facto India-Pakistan border. A huge procession of slogan shouting people was seen marching towards Baramulla town on their way to Uri near the LoC.

The more than five-week-long violent campaign over 40 hectares of forest land marked for the Amarnath shrine board has rocked Jammu and Kashmir and claimed at least 15 lives.

Following protests in the Kashmir valley, the land allotment was cancelled July 1, sparking violent reactions in Jammu. The issue has created an unprecedented communal wedge between the Muslim-dominated Kashmir valley and the Hindu-majority Jammu region.

Violent protests on the Jammu-Srinagar highway had caused disruption in the supply of medicines, food items and other commodities to the valley. Fruit supplies to other states of India from Kashmir through the road, which is the only motorable link to the valley, were also stopped. Thousands of fruit-laden trucks were stranded on the road for many days due to the protests; perishable items worth millions of rupees were in danger of rotting.

The authorities called out the Indian Army to secure the highway after fruit merchants of the valley threatened to route their supplies to Pakistan-administered Kashmir capital Muzaffarabad across the LoC.

Called “Muzaffarabad Chalo”, the march has won support from both factions of separatist Hurriyat Conference and mainstream Peoples Democratic Party (PDP). But the officials are maintaining that the road block has been lifted and supplies resumed.

Governor N.N. Vohra has categorically denied that there was any blockade of the national highway after its security was handed over to the army last week.

Despite the assurances, valley fruit growers carried on with the proposed march inviting stiff resistance from the police and paramilitary troopers manning the Srinagar-Uri-Muzaffarabad highway.

The police and paramilitary Central Reserve Police Force (CRPF) used batons and tear smoke shells to disperse the marchers at Sopore and the Sangrama crossing, 45 km from the state’s summer capital Srinagar, on the highway in Baramulla district.

“The marchers kept on regrouping. The situation is extremely tense,” a district official told IANS from Baramulla.

In Srinagar, stone pelting mobs engaged the police and CRPF troopers in pitched clashes at the Parimpora fruit wholesale market.

“Dozens of tear smoke shells have been used to contain the mob but the protesters are still out on the road. The situation is tense,” a police officer said.

The authorities in the Kashmir valley had imposed strict restrictions on public gatherings to ensure law and order.

Barricades and razor-fitted concertina wires have been placed on a number of roads to prevent crowds from crossing these points.

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