One dead in Srinagar firing as unrest continues (Lead)

August 14th, 2008 - 7:48 pm ICT by IANS  

Srinagar, Aug 14 (IANS) A father of two was killed when police fired on slogan-shouting agitators here Thursday, further fuelling the fires in Jammu and Kashmir that forced even some separatist leaders to call for peace. Shabeer Ahmed Handoo, 24, was shot at in the old city area of Safa Kadal when security forces opened fire at violent protesters who were shouting slogans and pelting stones at policemen — the night before the old city had erupted in tension when thousands of people had trooped out of their homes after rumours that Central Reserve Police Force (CRPF) troopers had allegedly molested some women.

Following the public frenzy, authorities Thursday cancelled the Srinagar-Muzaffarabad bus service scheduled for its fortnightly run today.

As the unrest that started in May when the government allotted land for the Amarnath pilgrims entered another day, Srinagar seethed even though the protests were not as widespread as earlier days and curfew was relaxed for nine hours from 6 a.m. Curfew was in place in other parts of the valley, however.

“The firing was totally unprovoked. We were on roads and shouting slogans against the police and paramilitary troopers who unleashed a rein of terror in our area Wednesday evening,” an outraged Mohammed Ashraf, his voice hoarse after shouting slogans, told IANS.

Ashraf, who said he belonged to Safa Kadal, added: “Police and the CRPF Wednesday evening harassed us after a cop was beaten up by a mob in the area.”

Other residents of the area alleged that the police had broken window panes in and around the area.

The relentless conflict over the land that has led to Muslims in Kashmir being pitted against Hindus in Jammu saw streets in Srinagar deserted except for patrolling security men amid the separatists calling for a shutdown — and peace.

Yaseen Malik, chairperson of the pro-independence Jammu and Kashmir Liberation Front (JKLF), appealed to the people to stay away from violence and refrain from stoning police and paramilitary bunkers and vehicles.

Malik and Sajjad Gani Lone, chief of separatist Peoples Conference, held peaceful demonstrations in the city centre Lal Chowk.

“You can continue with the protests in peaceful manner but please stay away from indulging in violence,” he told the gathering of hundreds.

Doctors from various hospitals held an emergency meeting and said they faced an acute shortage of life saving drugs and surgical items like cotton and bandages.

An uneasy quiet had descended in the city after slogans and loudspeaker announcements had shattered the calm of the night before.

Muslim priests repeatedly made announcements through loudspeakers in mosques asking people to come out to protest against the CRPF allegedly molesting women in the city.

The rumour spread like the proverbial wildfire and there was panic as people rushed out of their homes in the old city. The administration was taken by surprise and finally decided to withdraw the deployment of the CRPF from many sensitive areas of the city.

“I was fast asleep when loud noises and slogan shouting woke me up. It was like the early 1990s. Everybody was on the road in our area, but hardly anybody had any idea about what actually had happened,” said Junaid Ahmad, 47, a resident of old city area.

Following the reports, the inspector general of CRPF handling the situation in the valley has been recalled.

The number of injured in Wednesday’s firing following a clash between the CRPF and the people in Dellu, Pulwama district, has risen to 30. Twelve of seriously wounded were admitted to hospitals here. Doctors said the condition of four was very critical.

Jammu saw its own tensions.

A man in his 60s, Balwant Rai Khajuria, allegedly consumed poison and ended his life at Hiranagar, 60 km from the winter capital with witnesses claiming he collapsed in front of members of the Shri Amarnath Sangharsh Samiti, which has been protesting the cancellation of the land allotment.

He reportedly said before dying: “The government is not listening to us. I hereby end my life for the cause.”

Leader of the hardline faction of the Hurriyat Conference, Syed Ali Geelani, told spiritual guru Sri Sri Ravi Shankar that Kashmiri Muslims had nothing against the Amarnath pilgrimage.

That, in an unexpected silver lining to the dark clouds of violence that has polarised the state, continues uninterrupted.

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