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Violence spirals in Kashmir over Hindu trust land

A Kashmiri Muslim protester throws back a tear gas shell towards Indian police during a protest in Srinagar June 24, 2008. REUTERS/Fayaz Kabli

SRINAGAR, India (Reuters) - Indian police fired teargas to break up protests by Muslims angry with a government decision to transfer forest land to a Hindu shrine trust in Indian Kashmir, officials said on Tuesday.

Authorities last week said nearly 100 acres of forest land in Kashmir was being transferred to the Shri Amarnathji Shrine Board (SASB) to erect temporary structures for thousands of pilgrims who annually trek to a shrine deep in the Himalayas.

Muslim protesters attacked government buildings, a police post and set vehicles ablaze on Tuesday, prompting police to first fire teargas and then bullets in the air, injuring 35 people.

One person was killed overnight when police fired to stop the protests.

“Allahu Akbar (God is Great), we want freedom,” the protesters shouted. Shopkeepers shut their businesses in Srinagar, Kashmir’s summer capital.

“Half a dozen vehicles and two government offices were damaged by miscreants,” Shameem Ahmad, a police official said.

Kashmiri separatists say the transfer of land to the Hindu group is aimed at changing the demography of Kashmir, mainly Hindu India’s Muslim-majority region.

Indian authorities deny the charge.

During the two-month-long pilgrimage, tens of thousands of devout Hindus from different parts of India visit the cave, situated at an altitude of 3,800 metres (12,700 feet), to pray by an ice stalagmite they believe to be a symbol of Hindu god Lord Shiva.

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