Chaos mars Kashmiri separatists’ rally (Second Lead)August 22nd, 2008 - 7:37 pm ICT by IANS
Srinagar, Aug 22 (IANS) Chaos prevailed at a “show of strength” by the separatist Hurriyat Conference in Eidgah ground here Friday where tens of thousands of Kashmiri Muslims had gathered to offer Friday prayers. There was a sea of people at the sprawling prayer ground in the downtown area of Srinagar, the biggest in the city, shouting pro-freedom and pro-Islam slogans. People first offered Friday prayers peacefully and many then began moving away, even though the majority of the crowd stayed back to listen to separatist leaders.
For the first time, the separatists had decided to offer Friday prayers at the Eidgah grounds, which are otherwise reserved for offering Eid prayers twice a year.
The respective chairmen of the two factions of the Hurriyat Conference - Syed Ali Shah Geelani and Mirwaiz Umar Farooq - and Jammu and Kashmir Liberation Front chief Yasin Malik were among the prominent separatist leaders who were present on the occasion.
However, as soon as the separatists leader started addressing the gathering, thousands of people swarmed the dais, leading to pandemonium in which even the public address system was cut off.
The Mirwaiz who could speak for not more than two minutes, announced amid the chaos that there would be another “big rally” in city centre Lal Chowk on Monday.
He asked the people to observe a complete shutdown Saturday and Sunday.
The other leaders couldn’t speak and were seen embarking their vehicles and driving away from the venue.
Earlier, one man died and four people were critically injured when an overloaded bus of Hurriyat supporters hit an electric pole in Bijbehara town in Anantnag district while heading to Srinagar for the rally.
The police said the man who died had been identified as Nisar Ahmad. Two of the injured were sent to a hospital in Srinagar while another two were admitted in Anantnag.
The “show of strength” by the Hurriyat Conference led to closure of shops and schools here, ending a three-day break from shutdowns.
Other businesses, educational institutions and private offices were also closed and traffic went off the roads. However, there was no extra deployment of police or paramilitary troopers around the Eidgah.
“Security forces have been given clear directions to exercise maximum restraint,” Director General of Police Kuldeep Khoda told IANS.
Official sources said Mayor Salman Sagar Thursday evening sent a team headed by a joint commissioner of the Srinagar Municipal Corporation and a special contingent of sweepers to the Eidgah ground to get it cleaned.
Sagar, who belongs to the National Conference, had supported the Hurriyat programme of offering Friday prayers at the Eidgah.
“As a Kashmiri Muslim, I support the Namaz programme at the Eidgah,” Sagar told IANS.
The National Conference has also supported moderate Hurriyat chairman Mirwaiz Umar Farooq’s demand of opening the Srinagar-Muzaffarabad road and revocation of laws giving special powers to the armed forces in the state.
The state has been on the boil for about three months over a row involving allotment of land to the Amarnath shrine board. Violence during protests and counter-protests in the Kashmir Valley and Jammu region has claimed at least 40 lives.