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Thousands chanting "freedom" mass for Kashmir rally

SRINAGAR (Reuters) - Tens of thousands of people shouting “we want freedom” gathered in Srinagar on Thursday to mark the anniversaries of the assassinations of a separatist leader and a Muslim cleric.

A Masked Supporter of the moderate faction of Kashmir's Hurriyat (freedom) Conference gestures during a rally to mark the anniversary of Mirwaiz Mohammad Farooq's death in Srinagar May 21, 2009. REUTERS/Danish Ismail

Thursday’s rally was the biggest this year in Kashmir, which was hit by massive anti-India protests in 2008.

Shops, businesses and schools were closed in much of the scenic valley in response to a strike called by the region’s main separatist alliance, the All Parties Hurriyat (Freedom) Conference.

Most of the streets in Srinagar were deserted except for security patrols.

Hurriyat, an alliance of political separatist groups, called the strike to mark the anniversaries of the deaths of Moulana Mohammad Farooq, the chief cleric of Kashmir, and Abdul Gani Lone, a moderate separatist leader.

Unidentified gunmen killed Farooq at his home in 1990, while Lone was shot dead during a public meeting in 2002.

Indian authorities and separatist guerrillas blame each other for the assassinations.

More than 50,000 people, led by Hurriyat chairman Mirwaiz Umar Farooq, marched towards the “Martyrs’ Cemetery”, where many of those killed in the nearly two-decade-old revolt against New Delhi’s rule, including Lone and Farooq, are buried.

The Himalayan region is at the heart of a decades-long dispute between India and Pakistan, who have fought two of their three wars over the issue since they won freedom from British rule in 1947.

Overall violence has fallen significantly across Kashmir since India and Pakistan began peace talks in 2004, although New Delhi has imposed a “pause” in that dialogue since the Mumbai attack in November last year.

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