Thousands march to honour slain Kashmiri separatist leader (Lead, Changing Dateline)

August 16th, 2008 - 8:16 pm ICT by IANS  

A file-photo of Manmohan Singh
By Sarwar Kashani
Pampore (Jammu and Kashmir), Aug 16 (IANS) All roads in the Kashmir Valley Saturday were leading to this south Kashmir town where tens of thousands of people, including women, gathered to pay tributes to a separatist leader who was killed in police firing during protests over a land row that has triggered pro-freedom demonstrations in the troubled state. Separatist leaders from the hardline and moderate factions of the Hurriyat Conference, united in the aftermath of the land row, urged the people not to stone security forces and police bunkers inviting, their ire.

As people began to march towards Pampore, 16 km from Jammu and Kashmir’s summer capital Srinagar, on the national highway, huge cavalcades of cars and motorcycles were on the roads as many shouted pro-freedom and pro-Islam slogans and waved black and green flags.

Protesters also went to the hometown of slain Hurriyat leader Sheikh Abdul Aziz in buses.

Aziz was killed in police firing Aug 11 while leading a march of thousands towards the Line of Control (LoC) - that divides Kashmir between India and Pakistan.

“We Want Freedom”, “Islam Zindabad”, “Yahan Kya Chalega, Nizam-e-Mustafa” (Only Prophet Mohammed’s rule will prevail here), were some of the slogans that rented the air on the stretch of road from Srinagar to Pampore as people from rural areas of the valley also joined the rally.

Mirwaiz Umar Farooq, chairman of the moderate faction of the Hurriyat Conference, in his address asked Prime Minister Manmohan Singh to open the road to Pakistan through the LoC for trade, which is suffering due to the alleged economic blockade.

Urging New Delhi to demilitarise the region and revoke special powers given to the armed forces in Jammu and Kashmir, the Mirwaiz said peace would not return to the state until these conditions were met.

The Hurriyat chairman appealed to the people to use peaceful ways of protests that are continuing in the valley for the past nearly two months.

The unprecedented violence and public frenzy follows the bitter row over transferring government land to the Amarnath shrine authorities, nearly bringing the state to the brink of division on religious lines.

A dispute over 40 hectares of forest land, allotted to Shri Amarnath Shrine Board (SASB) that manages the annual Hindu pilgrimage to a south Kashmir Himalayan cave shrine dedicated to Lord Shiva, has snowballed into pro-separatist protests not seen during the two decades of militancy.

The crisis also raised tensions between nuclear rivals India and Pakistan.

The land transfer enraged Muslims in the valley forcing the government on July 1 to rescind its decision, which in turn triggered violent protests in Jammu where Hindu demonstrators attacked trucks carrying supplies to the valley and blocked the highway, the only motorable link with the rest of India.

Alleging “economic blockade” by the Hindu protesters, Kashmiri Muslims took to the streets and attempted to cross over to the LoC.

More than 40 people have died, mostly in police firing, in the last two months of violent protests in Jammu and the valley.

Syed Ali Geelani, chief of the hardline faction of the Hurriyat known for his hawkish approach, said: “The current wave of uprising is not to target any particular region or religion.

“We are struggling for our rights peacefully,” he said, urging the people not to throw stones at the police and paramilitary troopers.

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