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Army deploys thousands more troops to Kashmir

JAMMU, India (Reuters) - The Indian army is deploying around 10,000 extra soldiers in Kashmir to quell weeks of protests over land for a Hindu shrine that had sparked some of the state’s worst religious riots in two decades.

An Indian police officer and people carry Mohammad Yasin Malik, chairman of Jammu Kashmir Liberation Front (JKLF), to a hospital after Malik's health condition deteriorated on the 3rd day of a "fast unto death" to protest against attacks on Muslims and the economic blockade of a valley in Srinagar August 7, 2008. REUTERS/Danish Ismail

The troops will be deployed around the winter capital of Jammu, a Hindu-dominated region in Muslim-majority Kashmir where thousands of people have been protesting to demand the transfer of about 100 acres of land to a Hindu shrine trust.

The dispute began after the Kashmir government had 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 on its decision. Many Hindus, in turn, were angered.

“This troop strength is in addition to large contingents of paramilitary forces and police already deployed to contain the unrest”, a senior army officer, asking not to be named, told Reuters.

Tens of thousands of people have been killed in the disputed Himalayan region since a Muslim separatist revolt against Indian rule broke out in 1989. But the latest protests in Jammu have highlighted the grievances of the minority Hindus in the state.

The city of Jammu has been under curfew for most of the week, leading to shortages of basic supplies from food to medicine.

“We can’t understand what logic government has in continuing with this curfew when they have failed to contain the protests”, asks Virender Sethi, a shop worker.

India’s Prime Minister Manmohan Singh held an emergency meeting with political leaders on Wednesday to defuse the row. While all parties agreed for the need to restore peace to the region, the talks produced little concrete results.

In Srinagar, the summer capital of Kashmir, an influential senior separatist leader on a hunger strike to protest attacks on Muslims and the economic blockade of the valley by Hindu protesters was taken to hospital on Thursday after he lost consciousness, police said.

Mohammad Yasin Malik, chief of a prominent separatist party, Jammu Kashmir Liberation Front (JKLF) began his hunger strike on Tuesday.

Muslim-majority Kashmir valley is running short of essentials after Hindu protesters blocked traffic on the main highway during protests.

Shops and businesses remained closed in Srinagar for the fourth day on Thursday in protest against attacks and the highway blockade.”

The JKLF, which declared a ceasefire against Indian security forces in 1994, is campaigning for complete independence for Kashmir from both India and Pakistan. Both claim the disputed region in full but rule in parts.

Indian police said on Thursday they defused a powerful bomb planted on a road leading to highly guarded airport in Srinagar.

(Additional reporting by Sheikh Mushtaq in Srinagar)

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