Kashmir tense, two killed in LoC march (Lead)

August 11th, 2008 - 4:43 pm ICT by IANS  

Sopore, Aug 11 (IANS) Two people were killed and dozens injured here Monday when security forces fired at a group of fruit merchants who were trying to march across the Line of Control (LoC), the de facto India-Pakistan border, as high tension prevailed in the Kashmir valley. Thousands of fruit growers and people, alleging “economic blockade” by protesters in Jammu over the Amarnath land row, gathered in this apple trade centre and at many places of the valley to walk over to Pakistan-administered Kashmir through Srinagar-Uri-Muzaffarabad highway.

Authorities imposed curfew in a Baramulla village to stop the relentless demonstrators from marching ahead.

The police and the paramilitary Central Reserve Police Force (CRPF) tried to stop a procession near the Sopore-Sangrama crossing, 45 km from the state’s summer capital Srinagar, on the highway in Baramulla district.

The forces, according to police sources, used batons and tear smoke shells to disperse the marchers before opening fire.

Two protesters were killed and four injured in the paramilitary firing, said the police sources.

The situation turned more volatile when the protesters carried the bodies of the dead youth on their shoulder in the march to Pakistan-administered Kashmir capital Muzaffarabad.

Tension further escalated in Sopore town when the police fired at another mob injuring 13 protesters.

The march by the fruit merchants follows the nearly-six-week-long violent campaign over 40 hectares of forest land, earlier marked for the Amarnath shrine board. The agitation has rocked Jammu and Kashmir and had claimed at least 15 lives before Monday’s more deaths.

The land allotment was cancelled July 1, sparking violent reactions in Jammu. The issue has created an unprecedented communal wedge between the Muslim-dominated Kashmir valley and the Hindu-majority Jammu region.

Violent demonstrations on the Jammu-Srinagar highway had caused disruption in the supply of medicines, food items and other commodities to the valley.

Fruit supplies to other states of India from Kashmir through the road, which is the only motorable link to the valley, were also stopped.

Thousands of fruit-laden trucks were stranded on the road for many days due to the protests; perishable items worth millions of rupees were in danger of rotting.

The authorities called out the Indian Army to secure the highway after fruit merchants of the valley threatened to route their supplies to Muzaffarabad across the LoC.

The officials are maintaining that the road block has been lifted and supplies resumed after its security was handed over to the army last week.

Despite the assurances, valley fruit growers carried on with the proposed march inviting stiff resistance from the police and paramilitary troopers manning the highway to Muzaffarabad.

Called “Muzaffarabad Chalo”, the march was supported by both factions of separatist Hurriyat Conference and mainstream Peoples Democratic Party (PDP).

In Srinagar, stone pelting mobs engaged the police and CRPF troopers in pitched clashes at the Parimpora fruit wholesale market. At least 13 people were injured when the police fired rubber bullets at the protesters, the police said.

“Dozens of tear smoke shells have been used to contain the mob but the protesters are still out on the road. The situation is tense,” a police officer said.

The authorities imposed curfew beyond Rampur village ahead of Uri, nearly 90 km from Srinagar and 35 km from Aman Setu, the last Indian post on the LoC.

“The army’s help has been sought and we won’t allow anybody to step into Rampur village,” said a district official.

According to the official, barricades and razor-fitted concertina wires were placed to prevent crowds from going beyond.

“The situation is extremely tense,” a district official told IANS from Baramulla.

Cross LoC marches by slogan shouting people were also carried in south Kashmir Pulwama and Anantnag districts.

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