Fragile peace holding for the past ten days amid six-week long unrest in Kashmir was shattered on Friday when three protesters were killed, around 30 security forces and 45 civilians injured in violent demonstrations spread across the Valley.
Several police vehicles, government offices and police stations faced the wrath of the angry protesters in daylong street protests in north and south Kashmir.
It is one of the worst day of violence since June 11, when Tufail Mattoo’s (17) killing by the police pushed the Valley into an unending cycle of protests and killing. The death toll since then has reached to 19.
Last time, it was on July 19 that a youth was killed in firing in Baramulla district, 65 km north of Srinagar. Since then Kashmir was limping back to relatively peaceful days and public pressure was mounting on the separatists to issue softer protest calendars.
Today’s trouble started around 9:30 am when residents of Srinagar’s Chanapora area poured onto the streets in response to the All Parties Hurriyat Conference’s ‘Maisuma Chalo (march)’ call. Maisuma, 3 km away from Chanapora, adjacent to commercial hub Lal Chowk in Srinagar, is the bastion of the separatists and known for stone-pelting.
“When hundreds of people started marching towards Maisuma, security forces’ vehicles fired tear-gas shells and chased people into lanes and bylanes. Suddenly a vehicle entered a lane near Florence Hospital and fired at youth running for the cover,” said an eyewitness, insisting not to be named.
Four persons received bullet injuries. One critically wounded, Iqbal Ahmad Khan, was shifted to Sher-i-Kashmir Institute of Medical Sciences hospital.
“His (Ahmad) situation is very critical. He is in the intensive care unit,” said SKIMS chief medical officer Syed Amin Tabish. Khan, in his early twenties, has been hit in the head.
“I want him alive. He just left in the morning. I cannot live without him,” cried Khan’s mother.
Chanapora has been witnessing unrest for the past one week after police started arresting spree of youth involved in stone-pelting, which actually had fuelled anger in the area.
The incident forced the authorities to clamp curfew in Srinagar but protests were on near Chanapora till last reports came in. Protesters used mosque speakers asking people to demonstrate on the roads against the killings.
In Sopore, 55 km north of Srinagar, protesters assembled at Amargarh after Friday prayers. Police said it felt it was difficult to control the demonstration, swelling in numbers. Police sources said the CRPF camp nearby resorted to firing killing two people, injuring seven. Ten other people received injuries in tear-gas shelling.
Doctors at the Shri Maharaja Hari Singh hospital said two youth, Asem Ganai and Showkat Chopan, were brought dead. Official and police officers could not confirm the age and names of the dead.
A mob also encircled a police station at Pattan, 35 km north of Srinagar, which was later set afire. Police sources said the trapped police have asked help of the army. Till last reports came in, the face-off between protesters and policemen were on.
Twenty policemen, including officers, received injuries in north Kashmir in violent protests, said policed sources. Second rung police officers have been gagged from talking to the media.
A young boy, Muhammad Rafiq Bhat, was killed when he was hit by bullets in chest fired by the security forces to control a mob out of control. Dozens protesters were injured in the area and many critically.
The news of deaths in Srinagar and Sopore triggered more protests in south Kashmir’s Tral, Kakapora, Shopian, Awantipora. In Tral, 67 south of Srinagar, 13 people were injured when police tried to contain a protest march that started from a shrine in the area.
One critically injured, Bilal Ahmad, has been admitted to SKIMS hospital. Twenty one, including policemen, were injured at Kakapora, where a government office was attacked. Dozens of injuries were also reported from Shopian and Awantipora. At most of the places, security forces had to resort to firing, besides tear-gas smoke shells, to contain swelling protests.
“This is a worst kind of state terrorism Kashmir is facing. I appeal to Ban-ki-Moon (UN chief) to send a committee to Kashmir to assess the situation and stop the killings,” said Hurriyat chairman Mirwaiz Umar Farooq in a statement from his residence, where he has been placed under house arrest for several weeks now.
The Mirwaiz also rejected “quiet dialogue” offered by Home Minister P Chidambaram saying “killings and talks can’t together”.
“It is nothing but a rude. On one hand they (security forces) are killing people and on other hand they are talking about talks to creation confusion,” he said.
Hardening his stand Mirwaiz said: “Once New Delhi succeed in managing abnormal situation in Kashmir, it forgets about talks and dialogue…unless the Government of India revokes Armed Forces Special Powers Act, release all political prisoners and demilitarize cities and towns to make situation conducive for talks, the Hurriyat will not participate in any dialogue.”
Late in the evening, protests broke out in many interior localities in Srinagar. The government has declared a curfew on Saturday.