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J&K: Parties unite to save Afzal from noose

By Mukhtar Ahmad in Srinagar
Last updated on: September 29, 2006 21:09 IST
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Post-Friday prayer protests turned violent in Srinagar as angry protestors demanding Afzal Guru's release, who has been given the death sentence in the Parliament attack case, resorted to heavy stone pelting.

A Delhi court had on September 26 ordered Afzal to be hanged till death in Tihar jail on October 20 for his role in the December 13, 2001, terror attack on Indian Parliament.

Hundreds of youths gathered outside mosques in various localities of downtown Srinagar after the Friday prayers and held protests.

As police intervened to disperse the slogan-shouting crowds, they resorted to heavy stone pelting following which police had to use teargas and baton charges to disperse them.

Widespread protests forced the authorities to increase deployments around sensitive installations.

The police had a busy time trying to restore order and ensure that the crowds did not indulge in largescale violence.

Teargas and baton charges were extensively used on Friday.

Around 6,000 locals marched in Anantnag town carrying banners in favour of Afzal Guru.

"Hang all Kashmiris or release Afzal," said the banners carried by protestors in Anantnag town where the procession was led by south Kashmir chief priest Mirwaiz Qazi Yasir.

Protest reports also poured in from Afzal's native town Sopore and the adjoining district headquarters of Baramulla where hundreds of locals shouted slogans demanding reversal of Afzal's hanging order.

In the central Kashmir town of Budgam hundreds of protestors marched peacefully through the town demanding Guru's release.

Meanwhile, Congress on Friday sought to distance itself from Jammu and Kashmir Chief Minister Ghulam Nabi Azad's plea for mercy to Afzal.

"I am neither endorsing, nor rejecting what the chief minister has said... It will be one of the inputs in the decision-making process... Congress has noted the proposal," party spokesman Abhishek Singhvi told reporters.

Singhvi, who faced a volley of questions, declined to make any value judgment, when asked whether Azad had "erred" in approaching Prime Minister Manmohan Singh on the issue.

"As far as we are concerned, you have to allow established procedures to take care... these are matters which are in the exclusive domain of the President... and it is not for anyone else to opine or decide", was Singhvi's refrain to a volley of questions.

Singhvi dismissed Bharatiya Janata Party's charge that the Congress approach showed that it was "soft" towards terror. He said the cap fits BJP well as its rule had witnessed the attack on Parliament, Akshardham and the Raghunath temple.

Asked whether the Congress party favoured in general capital punishment, he said that the party has not changed its stand on the law of the land.

To a query that Nalini, one of the convicts in the assassination of Rajiv Gandhi got a pardon after Congress president Sonia Gandhi intervened, he suggested that no two individual cases are similar.

Several mainstream and separatist parties in Jammu and Kashmir, sinking their differences, have joined hands to seek review of Afzal's death penalty.

National Conference President and former Union Minister Omar Abdullah pleaded for review of the death verdict. He said thousands of people have been killed so far and several others sent to gallows, but the Kashmir issue still remained unresolved and after every killing the scene worsens.

"Our efforts are at present focussed on making the dialogue process a success and restoring the atmosphere of peace and security in the state. Steps such as execution of Guru have potential to squander all these efforts and make the matters worse. We cannot afford to ignore the sentiments and aspirations of the people," Abdullah said.

People's Democratic Party Chief Mehbooba Mufti held the same view as well. The execution will have an adverse impact on the ongoing peace process between India and Pakistan, and the situation in strife-torn Jammu and Kashmir, she said.

Hurriyat Conference (moderate faction) Chairman Mirwaiz Umar Farooq, in a statement from New York, expressed deep 'shock and anguish' over the court verdict.

"Death sentence in 21st century is an inhuman, immoral and barbarous step," he said.

The Kashmir Bar Association and several other separatist leaders such as Hurriyat Conference (breakaway) Chairman Syed Ali Shah Geelani, Democratic Freedom Party President Shabir Ahmed Shah, National Front Chairman Nayeem Ahmed Khan, Democratic Liberation Party Chairman Hashim Qureshi, People's Conference Chairman Sajjad Ghani Lone and rival JKLF leader Javed Mir besides militant organisations have also 'denounced' and protested the court order.

Government offices, educational institutions, banks and traffic were adversely affected even as markets remained shut in all the major and minor towns of the Valley in response to a shut down call by hardliner separatist leader and chairman of the breakaway All Parties Hurriyat Conference group Syed Ali Shah Geelani.

The frontline militant group Hizbul Mujaheedin, Kashmir Bar Association, Women's separatist group Dukhtaran-e-Millat and other separatist groups supported the shut down call. Srinagar witnessed total closure of markets, educational institutions and banks while attendance in government offices was badly affected because of non-availability of public transport in the city.

Geelani and democratic freedom party chief Shabir Shah were placed under house arrest.

With PTI Inputs

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Mukhtar Ahmad in Srinagar
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