Protests in Jammu as army stages flag marches (Second Lead)

August 2nd, 2008 - 4:13 pm ICT by IANS  

A file-photo of Amarnath Shrine

Jammu, Aug 2 (IANS) Protesters, including women and children, Saturday defied curfew to hold demonstrations as the Indian Army staged flag marches in the Jammu region, where violence a day earlier left two people dead when police were controlling riots against the revocation of land transfer to the Amarnath shrine board. Scores of people braved baton charges and held protest demonstrations against the withdrawal of the land diversion order favouring the Shri Amarnath Shrine Board (SASB) on a day when soldiers holding white flags marched through the streets.

Despite heavy presence of the police and the army, people came out in Shastri Nagar, Satwari and some other neighbourhoods in the winter capital of Jammu and Kashmir and shouted slogans against Governor N.N. Vohra and demanded restoration of the land to the shrine board.

The police baton charged the protesters to disperse the crowd in which some women and children also received injuries.

“It was a brutal use of force against us,” said Ashish, a protester.

The army staged flag marches in many Hindu dominated areas and in Samba and Kathua towns.

The Jammu-Pathankot highway, which was blocked by protesters till past midnight, had been opened and trucks carrying supplies to the Kashmir valley have started plying again, according to officials.

“We are trying to ensure safety of the trucks on the highway by all possible means and also attempting to keep miscreants away,” a police official told IANS.

He said disruption of normal supplies to the valley would not be allowed on any of the highways, the Jammu-Pathankot or Jammu-Srinagar - the only practical land route the Kashmir valley has with the rest of India.

The supply of essential commodities was disrupted because of the violent protests on the highway Friday.

The army was called out early Saturday, hours after two people were killed when the police opened fire at the rioters in Samba.

Mobs Friday went on the rampage after the killings. They set ablaze a police post in Jammu, ransacked a government guest house in Samba, burnt down a revenue office in Hira Nagar, and tried to storm into the official residence of former chief minister Mufti Mohammad Sayeed.

The police opened fire when protesters squatting on the highway refused to move away and clashed with the police. The agitators were protesting the presence of National Conference leader and former chief minister Farooq Abdullah and Mehbooba Mufti at an all-party meeting Governor N.N.Vohra called here to discuss the Amarnath cave shrine land allotment row.

Fifteen people were also injured in the police firing.

“The policemen were overstretched trying to prevent mobs from setting afire the government buildings and vehicles. Hence, the army had to be called out,” an official told IANS on condition of anonymity.

The government allotted 40 hectares of forest land in north Kashmir to the Amarnath Shrine Board May 26 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, which have claimed five lives, for more than a month now.

On Saturday, the police also arrested Hindu leaders Uma Bharti and Sadhvi Ritambhara who were to hold a public rally here, amid renewed violence over the land row.

Ritambhara and Bharatiya Janshakti leader Uma Bharti were arrested on their arrival at Jammu airport. They had planned a public rally.

Several media persons had to bear the brunt of the police’s verbal power at Bikram Chowk, where they were not allowed to move. They later staged a sit-in against the police “misbehaviour”.

“It is a serious situation that even media people are not being allowed to perform their duties,” said former BJP president Nirmal Singh. Congress leader and former minister Yogesh Sawhney described it as “unfortunate”.

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