Several Eid-ul-Fitr congregations turned into major pro-freedom protest demonstrations in Kashmir on Saturday. After protest marches, the devotees set afire police posts and government buildings forcing the security forces to resort to firing and tear-smoke shelling.
Hundreds of white-kurta clad devotees wearing black bands on the arms as mark of protest converged on Srinagar streets since early in the morning to say Eid prayers at Eidgah area. Hundreds of vehicles and two-wheelers ferried devotees to the venue from far off places. They were raising anti-India and pro-freedom slogans.
Both hard-line and moderate Hurriyat chiefs Syed Ali Shah Geelani and Mirwaiz Umar Farooq had asked people to pray at historic Eidgah area, which houses Srinagar's biggest graveyard of people who died in the unrest in the last 22 years.
Over one lakh people, including women and children, participated in Eid prayers at Eidgah with the Mirwaiz leading it and at Hazratbal shrine.
"I ask India to accept the disputed nature of Kashmir and offer right to self determination to people. The only way forward now is trilateral dialogue (Pakistan, India and Kashmir). No Eid package can help improve the situation in J-K," said the Mirwaiz told the congregation.
Prior to Eid prayers, the Mirwaiz announced a protest march from Eidgah to historic Lal Chowk, some seven kilo meters distance. The march took the state government completely off-guard. Geelani was arrested two days ago only to stop any protest rally in Kashmir.
After several rounds of meeting, the state government first called in troops and later withdrew to allow the Mirwaiz's protest march on the assurance that it will be peaceful.
"Mirwaiz was incapable to organising a peaceful march. Mirwaiz and Yasin contacted my office and sought permission for peaceful protests. We allowed them but they have abused the trust and vitiated Eid festivity," said Chief Minister Omar Abdullah.
The Mirwaiz said his procession was completely peaceful. "We passed many security pickets on the way to Lal Chowk and nobody hurled a stone. Once we concluded the sit-in at Lal Chowk, it's thereafter some miscreants set afire government buildings. We condemn it," said the Mirwaiz.
Jammu and Kashmir Liberation Front (JKLF) chief Yasin Malik and the Mirwaiz addressed hundreds of protesters at Lal Chowk. The separatist leaders asked people to exercise discipline and called on other separatist leaders to come under one umbrella.
The protesters, however, after the separatist speeches set afire government buildings housing the offices of chief engineer of the power department and the crime branch.
Earlier in the day, separatist supporters burnt down a police post and a police vehicle outside the Hazratbal shrine immediately after the prayers. Police fired in the air to control the situation. Wanted Masrat Alam reportedly was present inside the shrine, while other separatist leader Noor Muhammad Kalwal addressed the congregation.
This is for the first time in the last 22 years that Eid witnessed pro-freedom protests.