August 13, 2008 / 6:54 AM / 11 years ago

Muslims riot in Indian Kashmir over protest deaths

SRINAGAR, India (Reuters) - Angry Muslims mourning at least 20 protesters killed by police torched security bunkers and rioted in Indian Kashmir’s main city on Wednesday as a land row with Hindus revived calls for independence.

A Kashmiri protester falls as others around him run for cover as Indian police chase them with batons during a protest in Srinagar August 13, 2008. REUTERS/Fayaz Kabli

Police said they fired teargas to disperse thousands of Muslim protesters who defied a curfew at several places across Kashmir Valley. They said more than two dozen people were injured in clashes between stone-throwing protesters and police.

Muslim Pakistan, which controls part of Kashmir, condemned the violence. Its parliament called on the United Nations to urge India to stop what it called excessive and brutal force.

The nuclear-armed neighbors have fought three wars over the region they both claim.

“To call for international involvement in the sovereign internal affairs of India is gratuitous, illegal and only reflects reversion to a mindset that has led to no good consequences for Pakistan in the past,” India’s Foreign Ministry spokesman said late on Wednesday.

A curfew remained in force in much of Indian Kashmir after some of the biggest protests since a revolt against Indian rule broke out in 1989 over what Muslim traders said was an economic blockade of their region by Hindus in adjoining Jammu.

The land dispute has polarized Indian Kashmir, split between the Muslim-majority Kashmir valley and the Hindu-dominated region around Jammu city, hurting trade between the two areas.

In central Srinagar, Kashmir’s summer capital, several thousand mourners, shouting “There is no god but Allah” and “We want freedom”, attended a funeral of two protesters killed by police on Tuesday. The mourners set fire to roadside bunkers and hoisted green Islamic flags.


Shops and businesses were closed in Srinagar and special prayers were being held in mosques and homes. Police and soldiers dressed in battle gear patrolled deserted streets, often blocked with barbed wire.

A Kashmiri separatist alliance, the All Parties Hurriyat (Freedom) Conference, called for peaceful protests. One of their leaders was among this week’s dead.

“Don’t give (the) oppressor any chance to use brute force, to shower bullets,” said Mirwaiz Umar Farooq, Hurriyat’s chairman.

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 rescinded its decision, which in turn angered Hindus in Jammu who attacked lorries carrying supplies to Kashmir valley and blocked the region’s highway, the only surface link with the rest of India.

The clashes have presented Prime Minister Manmohan Singh’s embattled government, already hit by inflation and a spate of unsolved bombings this year, with one of its biggest tests as it battles to cool religious tensions.

Challenging what residents said was a blockade, tens of thousands of Kashmiris marched to the de facto border with Pakistan on Monday to sell goods, sparking the deadly clashes with police. Indian authorities deny imposing any blockade.

Slideshow (21 Images)

Violence in Indian Kashmir had fallen after India and Pakistan began a peace process in 2004. But the turmoil threatens to endanger the already sputtering process.

Hindu protests have shut down Jammu for more than a month. On Wednesday Hindu groups blocked highways leading to the capital, New Delhi, and stopped trains in several Indian cities, demanding the disputed forest land back.

(Additional reporting by Kamran Haider in Islamabad)

Writing by Krittivas Mukherjee; Editing by Bappa Majumdar and Meg Clothier

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