Geelani calls for protest sit-ins at army camps in Kashmir
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Geelani calls for protest sit-ins at army camps in Kashmir

Syed Ali Geelani called today for protesters to hold mass sit-ins at police and army camps, posing a new challenge to security forces as they struggle to restore order.

india Updated: Sep 16, 2010 20:43 IST

Kashmir's top separatist called on Thursday for protesters to block police and army camps with sit-ins, posing a new challenge to security forces as they struggle to restore order.

More than 90 protesters have been shot dead by police in three months of unrest in the Valley, with the government under fire over its handling of the crisis.

Most clashes have seen masked Kashmiris, some barely teenagers, throw stones at heavily armed security forces who have retaliated with tear gas, baton charges and live ammunition.

"I have urged people to stage peaceful sit-in protests in front of army and security force camps in Kashmir," hardline separatist Syed Ali Geelani, who has led protests since June, told reporters in Srinagar.

The new action, the first of its kind in the wave of demonstrations, will begin next Tuesday, said the 81-year-old leader, who has set a calendar for protests that has been rigorously followed to date.

Army spokesman JS Brar slammed the new initiative, which came after a meeting of senior security force officials who said they had formulated a new strategy to quell the violence.

"This is a deliberate attempt to embroil the army in the ongoing agitation and distract it from its primary role," Brar told reporters, adding that the protests were aimed at "preventing movement of army convoys."

"The army makes a sincere appeal to the people to avoid being misled by the separatist leaders and avoid confronting army garrisons or vehicles," Brar told reporters.

Militancy has now fallen to a 20-year low, however, with the stone-throwers now the focus of a resistance movement in favour of independence.

"The protests on September 21 will be peaceful where people will chant slogans like 'Go India, Go Back!," Geelani said, adding that petitions would also be handed to army camp officers urging them to leave Kashmir.

The hardline leader has been strengthened by the anger generated during the protests and has emerged as chief organiser.

His calendar of strikes and protests -- all he says in pursuit of a peaceful solution -- has seen almost a total shutdown of businesses and public administration.

The death toll from three months of unrest rose to 94 on Thursday after the cousin of another separatist leader, Yasin Malik, died of injuries suffered in a shooting last month, Malik's spokesman told AFP.

Also on Thursday, five paramilitary officers were injured in the main town of Srinagar when their vehicle crashed as a small group of protesters defied a curfew and pelted them with stones, a police spokesman said.

All major towns in Kashmir remained under curfew for the fifth day, leading to complaints from locals that they were running low on food and water.

In New Delhi, the government of Prime Minister Manmohan Singh faced criticism from several commentators after a five-hour crisis meeting between political leaders held in the capital on Wednesday.

The meeting broke up with a decision to send a fact-finding mission to the Muslim-majority area.

"Wars are won and insurrection defeated by leaders, not committees," wrote commentator Manoj Joshi in the Mail Today newspaper. "The Manmohan Singh government seems bent on defying this logic."

Samar Halarnkar, writing in the Hindustan Times, said "the all-party meeting in Delhi has utterly failed to address the (Kashmir) valley's realities."

He warned of the insurgency getting a new lease of life unless the grievances of local people were addressed.

Troops on Thursday shot dead five suspected militants during a gunbattle near the southern town of Tral, a police spokesman said.

First Published: Sep 16, 2010 17:17 IST