The Telegraph
Since 1st March, 1999
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Free rebels, win people: Mufti

Srinagar, Dec. 19: Chief minister Mufti Mohammad Sayeed today defended his government’s decision to release political prisoners, indicating it was a means to win people’s hearts and choke support for militancy.

“There is no need to be defensive on this count,” Mufti said in Jammu while releasing a statistical report on the Assembly elections. He said the common minimum programme of the Congress-PDP alliance “deals quite candidly about the non-use of Pota and reorientation of the SOG”.

“For restoring peace with honour in the state, people’s alienation has to be addressed and their hearts won, as militancy is always sustained with the people’s support. Therefore, removing alienation of the people would be a major step in achieving the objective of heralding peace in Jammu and Kashmir,” he added.

Mufti maintained that people’s alienation could not be addressed “unless their hearts are won”. “I have always believed in finding solutions through ballot and not the bullet,” he said.

Dwelling on his political odyssey from carrying the banner of the Congress to the formation of a regional party, Mufti said: “Initially, many of my friends had not approved of this idea.”

The chief minister said the recent elections have helped create a conducive atmosphere in the state. “This has also posed a big challenge in the shape of heightened people’s expectations that call for good governance and quick dispensation of justice,” he added.

“The fairest elections saw the end of the National Conference hegemony and emergence of a viable alternative in the state where the people, including me, were quite apprehensive about the credibility of the polls,” remarked Mufti.

Observing that the “fair elections were not a matter of concession, but a democratic right of the people”, he said. “The commitment made by the Prime Minister was implemented in letter and sprit. The credit for the successful, transparent and fair elections goes mainly to the Election Commission of India that has strengthened the democracy.”

Sentence protest

In Srinagar, life ground to a halt after a strike called by the lawyers, a rights group and a women’s separatist group to protest against the death sentences handed to the three Kashmiris — S.A.R. Geelani, Mohammad Afzal and Shaukat Hussain — convicted of the attack on Parliament. Shops and businesses downed shutters and hundreds came out on the streets, says Reuters.

The All-Parties Hurriyat Conference has demanded an international inquiry into the attack, saying the three are innocent.

Police detained Javid Mir, vice-chairman of the Jammu and Kashmir Liberation Front, and more than a dozen lawyers taking part in demonstrations.

“We want freedom,” Mir shouted as he was whisked away in a police jeep. “India is using Pota as a war weapon,” read a placard.

Police in Jammu and Kashmir have been on alert for any violence after Wednesday’s sentence, the first under the tough Prevention of Terrorism Act.

In north Kashmir’s Baramulla district, hundreds of slogan-shouting people marched through the streets in protest against the sentence despite heavy snowfall, witnesses said. “We want justice, withdraw the death sentence,” the protestors shouted.

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