Violence escalates in Kashmir Valley, PM calls for another meet (Roundup)

August 12th, 2008 - 9:29 pm ICT by IANS  

A file-photo of Manmohan Singh

Srinagar/New Delhi, Aug 12 (IANS) Violence escalated in Jammu and Kashmir Tuesday as 11 more people were killed and scores injured in pitched battles with the police as irate protesters defied curfew, scoured the streets damaging property, and clashed with troops in many towns in the valley even as Kishtwar in the plains reeled on the edge of a communal clash. Worried over the deteriorating security situation and the possibility of unrest spiralling further, Prime Minister Manmohan Singh called for another all-party meeting Wednesday to hammer out a formula that could be acceptable to both Jammu and the Kashmir Valley.

Party leaders, who had met last week, met again Tuesday to discuss the issue but to no avail as discussions were deadlocked.

“The leaders met Tuesday but could not arrive at a workable formula or solution that would appease the people,” said a senior government functionary.

Conflict spread like the proverbial wildfire across the valley. Incidents of firing were reported from Srinagar, from Lasjan on the outskirts of Srinagar as well as from the towns of Bandipora and Nagabal.

In Bandipora, three people were killed when the army opened fire at people defying curfew. Paramilitary central Reserve Police Force (CRPF) troopers also opened fire at a mob in the Nagabal area of Ganderbal district in north Kashmir, killing one person.

Reinforcements were called in and authorities had a tough time containing protests.

More than 300 people, including civilians and policemen, have been injured in Srinagar since Monday.

“It is almost a throwback to the violence witnessed in the early 1990s. This is getting from bad to worse,” said the state’s former chief secretary Ashok Jaitly.

For the last two months, both regions have been locked in unparalleled strife along communal lines over the transfer and subsequent revocation of 40 hectares of land in north Kashmir to the Amarnath shrine board that manages the pilgrimage to the cave shrine dedicated to Lord Shiva.

This burning issue has set off an inexorable wave of protests, shutdowns and violence first in the Kashmir Valley, then in Jammu - and now again in the valley - paralysing the border state.

Meanwhile, the Foreign Office took strong exception to Pakistan’s allegation about “excessive use of force” in Jammu and Kashmir.

“These statements constitute clear interference in the internal affairs of an integral part of India,” said external affairs ministry spokesperson Navtej Sarna.

“Such statements by leaders of a foreign country do not help the situation,” he said.

“Nor do they contribute to creating the atmosphere necessary for the dialogue process between India and Pakistan to move forward.”

He was alluding to two separate statements by Pakistani Foreign Minister Shah Mahmood Qureshi and the foreign ministry spokesperson in Islamabad that expressed “concerns” over the situation in Kashmir and attacks on life and property of Muslims in the Indian state that Pakistan claims to be part of its territory.

To add to the tense situation, thousands of mourners led by senior separatist leaders joined the funeral procession of the slain Hurriyat leader Sheikh Abdul Aziz, who was laid to rest at the martyrs’ graveyard.

The protesters reached the residence of the moderate Hurriyat Conference chief Mirwaiz Umer Farooq, breaking the cordon formed by the security forces who had been keeping him under house arrest. Many others did the same to let Syed Ali Geelani, head of the hardline Hurriyat, out of his Hyderpora home.

Aziz was killed along with four others Monday while leading a huge procession towards Muzaffarabad in Pakistan-administered Kashmir in an effort to neutralise the valley’s economic blockade.

And parts of Jammu raged as well.

Two people were killed and several injured when the police opened fire in Kishtwar town to contain a communal clash as crowds defied curfew to fight pitched battles and loot shops.

Hindus and Muslims clashed in complete defiance of curfew restrictions imposed in the Muslim majority town.

“The situation was slipping out of hand and the police had to open fire, in which at least two people - Mohammad Maqbool and Abdul Aziz - were killed. A few others were injured,” an official told IANS.

Curfew was imposed in Kishtwar Monday night after two Hindu houses were torched and mobs threw stones while shouting anti-government slogans, he said.

However, the situation in the rest of Jammu region was calm.

The all-party delegation that visited the state over the weekend said the government was taking steps to facilitate cross-border trade.

“Senior government officers have already visited the state to see the existing infrastructure there. However a decision in the matter can be taken only through mutual arrangements between India and Pakistan. Any unilateral move in this direction will neither be practical nor wise,” said a home ministry official.

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