Kashmir Valley calm amid shutdown, braces for rally Monday

August 17th, 2008 - 9:13 pm ICT by IANS  

A file-photo of Amarnath Shrine

Srinagar, Aug 17 (IANS) The Kashmir Valley remained free of incident Sunday but people observed a shutdown for the eighth consecutive day paralysing normal life and economic activities in the troubled region. The separatist Hurriyat Conference asked for resumption of routine activities but people did not want to open their businesses even though private transport plied on the otherwise deserted roads here.

“We are afraid of opening our shops given the volatile situation. It’s very scary. Anything can happen at anytime. It’s not worth it to risk your life and property,” said Maqsood Ahmed, a shopkeeper in the old city area here.

City centre Lal Chowk, the business hub of the valley, wore a deserted look, shops were closed, and trafic was sparse on the roads.

Muslims in the valley have been observing the shutdown since Aug 11 when the police opened fire at angry marchers who were attempting to cross the Line of Control (LoC) dividing Kashmir.

There were no reports of any incidents in the valley that was seething with continuous violent demonstrations over an “economic blockade” by Jammu agitators over the revocation of land transfer to a Hindu temple trust.

The land was allotted to the Shri Amarnath Shrine Board (SASB) for raising structures for pilgrims to a cave shrine in south Kashmir.

But the order was revoked following violent protests in Muslim-dominated Kashmir Valley that feared the move could mark the settlement of “outsiders” in the state that enjoys constitutional mandate to protect its demographic profile.

The revocation sparked off a violent counter-campaign in Hindu-majority Jammu, which also led to blockade of food, fuel and medicinal supplies to the valley that has been witnessing huge pro-freedom rallies in the past days.

At least 22 Kashmiri Muslim protesters have been killed in police firing that led to re-igniting separatist sentiments in the troubled valley after years of relative peace and stability - something that Pakistan-sponsored militancy almost failed to do in two decades.

“No demonstrations were held today after days of violent protests,” said a police officer.

But authorities worried over the recent situation were weighing options about whether to disallow the Hurriyat’s march to the United Nations Military Observers’ Group (UNMOG) office here Monday.

“Allowing the march will set off a chain reaction that would end nowhere,” observed a senior intelligence officer, speaking on condition of anonymity, as his service rules do not allow him to speak to media.

The groups of the separatist Hurriyat Conference, headed by hardliner Syed Ali Shah Geelani and Mirwaiz Umar Farooq, have asked Kashmiris to march to the UNMOG headquarters in Sonawar, in the uptown area of the city.

“Men, women and children - not a single soul should remain indoors. All of us will march to the UNMOG Monday,” the Mirwaiz told a massive rally in the saffron-rich south Kashmir town of Pampore Saturday.

The rally was to honour leader Sheikh Abdul Aziz who was killed in police firing Aug 11 while attempting to lead marchers across the LoC.

“Srinagar city alone has a population of 1.2 million. In the old city area, the Mirwaiz has a formidable base of supporters. His call would definitely bring out a massive crowd,” said a police official, worried about the Monday march.

The Hurriyat is also expecting people from other towns and villages to join the rally.

The police officer said there were some “very sensitive offices and installations in the area which could become the targets of miscreants if the rally was allowed”.

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