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Since 1st March, 1999
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Land fire scorches Jammu & Valley Amarnath row kills 3 more

Srinagar, Aug. 4: The Amarnath row claimed three more lives today, two in Jammu’s Samba and one in Srinagar, as shutdowns and curfews crippled the state.

Police firing on a rampaging crowd in Samba killed two protesters, the violence leaving the district police chief with a broken wrist.

In Srinagar, where a strike had been called by Hurriyat hardliner Syed Ali Shah Geelani against alleged attacks on Jammu Muslims and the economic blockade of the Valley, protester Asif Ahmad Dar was killed when the police, pelted with stones, fired tear-gas shells. One shell hit the 18-year-old on his chest, killing him instantly.

As word about the late afternoon death spread from the protest scene in Maisuma, in the heart of Srinagar, hundreds took to the streets and fought pitched battles with the police.

More policemen and paramilitary forces were rushed to bring the situation under control. Thousands, chanting pro-freedom slogans, later joined Asif’s funeral procession, which went past the commercial hub of Lal Chowk.

The strike was total, with shops, business outlets and educational institutions closed and traffic off the roads. Even banks and government offices remained shut.

The picture was grimmer in Jammu, into its 12th day of strikes and intermittent curfews, because of the agitation against the cancellation of the Amarnath land allotment.

In Samba, the police fired to contain a rampaging crowd, killing one on the spot. Another protester later succumbed to his injuries. The two have been identified as Sanjeev Kumar, 24, and Sunny Padha, 30.

“The protesters pelted security forces with stones and blocked the highway,” Jammu police chief K. Rajendra said.

Samba police superintendent Prabhat Singh fractured his wrist while his deputy, Shiv Kumar, was injured in clashes with the protesters of the Shri Amarnath Sangharsh Samiti, spearheading the campaign against the revocation of the land allotment. Twenty security personnel and eight civilians were injured.

The Samiti denied claims of attacks on security forces and, instead, accused the police of firing on “peaceful” protesters. “A peaceful women’s procession was on and when the police used force against them, other men came forward to save them,” the Samiti’s Anand Sharma said.

Tempers were also running high because of the mystery deaths of two protesters in Samba last week. Police chief Rajendra claimed they had “died in gang rivalry”.

The Samiti, an umbrella body of 35 political, religious and social outfits, extended the Jammu shutdown by five days and ruled out talks with the state to end the land row, which has killed 11 people and injured over 1,000 in the Valley and Jammu since last month. The Samiti is also demanding governor N.N. Vohra’s resignation.

Curfew was relaxed in Jammu town in the morning to allow people to stock up on essentials but no such respite was given in other Jammu districts. The army staged flag marches in sensitive areas. Doctors, nurses and other staff in Jammu hospitals went on a day’s mass casual leave to express solidarity with the protesters.

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