Troops on alert to halt protest march

  • AFP, Srinagar
  • |
  • Updated: Aug 11, 2008 18:12 IST
Indian troops in Kashmir were on high alert on Monday to prevent a planned protest march to the Pakistani part of the divided region amid worsening religious tensions, officials said.

Kashmiri separatist leaders, who called the march to demonstrate against an economic blockade of the Muslim-majority Kashmir valley by Hindu extremists living further south, were also placed under house arrest, police said.

Tensions flared in June when the government of Jammu and Kashmir said it was donating a portion of land in the mountainous area to a Hindu pilgrimage trust.

That decision sparked over a week of violent protests by Muslims that left at least six people dead, forcing authorities to cancel the plan.
That in turn prompted riots in the Hindu-dominated Jammu part of the state, as well as efforts by Hindu hardliners to block road access to the Kashmir valley -- which has badly hit Muslim traders.

Muslim separatists have now threatened to attempt a march across the heavily militarised Line of Control to highlight what they say is the Kashmir valley's proximity to Pakistan rather than the rest of India.
"We have deployed thousands of police and paramilitary to prevent today's march," a top Muslim police officer said on condition he not be named.

In the Kashmir valley's main city, Srinagar, police were also preventing all types of vehicles from entering the city, an AFP reporter said, while separatist leaders Syed Ali Geelani and Mirwaiz Umar Farooq were placed under house arrest.

The Hindu blockade of Kashmir has badly hit fruit growers unable to sell their produce, and has led to shortages of essentials like medicines.

Fruit growers and traders had also vowed to try and cross the sealed-off Line of Control so they can sell their produce in Muzaffarabad, the capital of Pakistani-Kashmir.

Police said they detained over 100 fruit growers and traders across the valley and deflated tyres of trucks hours before the march was to start.

On Sunday, India's Home Minister Shivraj Patil appealed for calm and said Muslim traders would be compensated.

 

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