Asia Crisis

Eight killed as Indian Kashmir land row boils

(Updates toll, adds analyst quote)

SRINAGAR, India, Aug 12 (Reuters) - Police fired on protesters in Indian Kashmir on Tuesday, killing seven people as huge demonstrations against what Muslim traders said was an economic blockade by Hindus roiled the region, officials said.

Violence swept up the neighbouring Hindu-dominated Jammu region as well where one person was killed and several injured when Hindus and Muslims clashed.

At least 40 people were injured in a dozen separate firing incidents across Kashmir which came a day after four people, including a separatist leader, were killed by police trying to stop Muslim protesters from crossing into Pakistan.

A land dispute has polarised Indian Kashmir, split between the Muslim-majority Kashmir valley and the Hindu-dominated region around Jammu city, severely curbing trade between the two areas.

As a result, traders in Kashmir are trying to sell their goods in neighbouring Pakistan.

The protests have widened to become pro-independence rallies, some of the biggest since a separatist revolt against New Delhi broke out in the region 20 years ago.

On Tuesday, some 20,000 Muslims defied a curfew in Bandipora, about 60 km (40 miles) north of Srinagar, Kashmir's summer capital, to protest against Monday's killings.

"Security forces opened fire and killed three of them," Nizam Ahmad, an official from Bandipora, said.

Police also fired on another protest rally just south of Srinagar, killing two people. Elsewhere, they fired in the air and used tear gas to quell demonstrations, witnesses said.

Protests erupted as Kashmir's main separatist alliance, the All Parties Hurriyat (Freedom) Conference, prepared to bury senior leader Sheikh Aziz, among four people killed by police as he led Monday's march.

"Sheikh Aziz's death is big loss to Kashmir nation, we will take his mission to its logical end," said Mirwaiz Umar Farooq, chairman of Hurriyat.

Analysts said the protests had brought the focus back on Kashmir and endangered a sputtering 2004 peace process between India and Pakistan had helped bring down violence.

"The first thing is the whole event is very undesirable in terms of both the domestic situation in Jammu and Kashmir and its linkage with the larger bilateral peace process," C. Uday Bhaskar, a senior strategic analyst, said.

"I see this will have a bad impact and considering that Pakistan is going through a bad turmoil now, the overall impact on the peace proces will not be very positive."

Indian authorities denied any economic blockade and say lorries, guarded by policemen and soldiers, were plying the region's main 300-km (185 mile) highway, the only surface link between Kashmir valley and the rest of India.

The dispute began after the Kashmir government promised to give forest land to the trust that runs Amarnath, a cave shrine visited by Hindu pilgrims. Many Muslims were enraged.

The government then backed down from its decision, which in turn angered many Hindus in Jammu.

The land row has sparked some of Kashmir's worst religious riots. Over a dozen people have been killed and hundreds injured. (Editing by Krittivas Mukherjee; Editing by David Fox)