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Land row: Kashmir bandh near total

By Mukhtar Ahmad In Srinagar
June 27, 2008 20:27 IST
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A near total general strike, public protests and widespread processions marred life across Kashmir on  Friday.

Thousands of people marched from various localities of summer capital Srinagar, converging on Lal Chowk, the city centre where they shouted slogans against the government and the Sri Amarnath Shrine Board (SASB).

The protestors hoisted flags on the clock tower, the landmark in the city centre. The protestors also smashed the clock on the tower.

Some processions were led by the Imams of various city mosques.

Addressing the protestors, senior separatist leader Naeem Ahmad Khan said, "We are not against the annual pilgrimage to the Hindu Cave shrine, but at the same time would not allow anybody to create hegemony in the name of religion."

Lal Chowk was the hub of Friday's mass protests against the forest land allotment to SASB by the state government.

Following the instruction from the top brass, the police and CRPF maintained utmost restraint while dealing with the situation.

The police and CRPF presence was comparatively less today in view of Friday prayers.

But at Khanyar in old city locals alleged the police used excessive force to deal with the mobs, who pelted stones at police.

Before and after the Friday prayers, police and paramilitary forces had a tough time in confronting the mobs that kept on swelling, even as protestors converged into the city for the first time from the adjoining Ganderbal district.

The protestors who travelled all the way from Ganderbal clashed with police near Soura, hurling stones and venting anger at the local police station.

However, police while maintaining restraint foiled mobs attempt at arson and plunder.

In Ganderbal, the office of district magistrate and the residential house of the state forest minister were subjected to heavy stone pelting. The guards responded by firing warning shots to disperse the protestors.

In several city areas, the security forces clashed with the protestors using tear smoke shells, batons and firing warning shots.

Similar protests were held throughout other major and minor towns in the valley.

Police and paramilitary forces resorted to cane charge and tear smoke at the agitated mobs who resorted to heavy stone pelting in Anantnag, Pulwama, Budgam, Kupwara and Baramulla districts.

The state administration ordered closure of schools and colleges in Kashmir for two days.

Meanwhile chief minister, Ghulam Nabi Azad Friday said that there was no issue that could not be resolved peacefully, appealing people to maintain calm and not to pay any heed to elements out to vitiate peace in the State.

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Mukhtar Ahmad In Srinagar