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HindustanTimes Thu,18 Sep 2014

Amarnath yatra from Baltal route halted following clashes

Peerzada Ashiq, Hindustan Times  Srinagar, July 18, 2014
First Published: 16:39 IST(18/7/2014) | Last Updated: 21:08 IST(18/7/2014)

The pilgrimage to the Amarnath cave shrine was halted on Friday morning from the Baltal route, north-east of Srinagar, following a violent clash between two groups.

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Trouble started when a non-local working at a 'langar' (stall offering free meals) allegedly charged at a local owner of tents and ponies and stabbed him following an altercation over some issue at the Baltal base camp, 100 km from Srinagar.

"Friday morning saw a squabble between some people at the Baltal camp. The situation has been brought under control without any injuries to anyone," Srinagar-based police spokesman of the zonal headquarters said.

However, the injured, identified as Naib Khan, a resident of north Kashmir's Kupwara district, was shifted to Srinagar's Sher-i-Kashmir Insititute of Medical Sciences for specialised treatment. His condition is said to be stable. Preliminary reports suggest that the accused hails from Jammu's Katra area.

Following the incident, local owners of ponies and tent held a protest at the Baltal base camp and demanded action against the accused.

The protest, however, turned into a major clash between the locals and non-locals, who provide services to the pilgrims.

Hundreds of people from different parts of the valley converge to Baltal and Pahalgam in south Kashmir every year to provide services during the yatra period. They are registered by the Shri Amarnath Shrine Board (SASB).

The security forces used tear gas to disperse the protesters who were resorted to stone pelting. Several makeshift structures, housing shops, kitchens and accommodation facilities were set on fire by the protesters during the clashes.

"Some tents and a few 'langars' did catch fire. The police and fire service departments are on the job to control the blaze," the police spokesman said.

Unofficially, sources said four 'langars' and two-dozen tents were damaged. Eyewitnesses told the Hindustan Times that around 20 people received injuries in the clashes as security forces chased and charged batons at protesters.

However, no pilgrim was attacked or hurt in the clashes.

On Friday afternoon, the protesters blocked the Srinagar-Leh national highway and accused the Central Reserve Police Force (CRPF) personnel of "going berserk" in the area.

Senior police and civil administration officers rushed the spot to defuse the situation. However, they refused to divulge details to the media at the spot.

The first 20 days of the 44-day yatra had passed off peacefully. The Baltal route, unlike Pahalgam in south Kashmir, offers shortest but treacherous trek of 14 km to the cave shrine.

Sources said the Shri Amarnath Shrine Board will allow pilgrimage from the Baltal base camp as and when the situation improves.

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