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Slogans trigger shrine clash

Srinagar, July 9: Jammu and Kashmir’s most sacred Muslim shrine, at Hazratbal in Srinagar, witnessed clashes between pro-azaadi protesters and state police today.

The police played the incident down but the separatists accused the force of sacrilege.

“Some protesters tried to raise slogans inside the shrine but the situation is completely under control,” Hazratbal superintendent of police (SP) Masood-uz-Zaman said.

Residents said the police-protester clashes broke out inside the shrine’s main complex and led to more violent fights outside, leaving several people injured. Hundreds had turned up for Friday prayers today after the police eased the restrictions around the shrine.

“Soon after the prayers, some youths started shouting pro-azaadi slogans inside. A large number of policemen took them on,” said a resident.

The separatists had called for a march to the shrine today but a strict curfew in most parts of Kashmir ensured that only people from adjoining localities could reach the shrine.

Tomorrow, the state government faces a bigger challenge during the Miraj-Alam festival. Lakhs of devotees throng Hazratbal on this occasion. District magistrate Mehraj Kakroo said the curfew was being relaxed across Srinagar from this evening for 24 hours because of the festival. In 1993, the shrine had been at the centre of one of the worst crises triggered by the militancy. Armed rebels had taken it over, leading to a month-long stand-off with the army, before leaving under an amnesty offer.

Two years later, some militants occupied a building adjoining the shrine, leading to a day-long stand-off and an encounter in which all the holed-up militants were killed. For the past 15 years, a strong posse of policemen has been guarding the shrine, with political speeches banned inside.

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