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Azaadi tide swells, govt cracks whip - Valley marchers fall to lawkeepers' bullets

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By MUZAFFAR RAINA AND AGENCIES in Srinagar
  • Published 25.08.08
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Srinagar, Aug. 25: A clampdown by security forces today thwarted a separatist-backed march to Lal Chowk but could not stop furious protesters from defying curfew in the Valley, leading to the death of four persons in firing.

Pockets of protest erupted across many of the 21 districts under curfew after police picked up Hurriyat leaders Syed Ali Shah Geelani, Mirwaiz Umer Farooq and Yasin Malik in overnight raids to prevent them from leading today’s march.

Official sources said a mob took Bandipora deputy commissioner Mushtaq Ahmad hostage at Hajan in north Kashmir, forcing the police to open fire. A youth, identified as Shahid Ahmad Pahloo, was killed on the spot.

The deputy commissioner had apparently gone to the spot to check out the ground situation after the mob began marching down the streets, undeterred by teargas shells and police lathis.

A police source claimed the security personnel retaliated after unruly elements in the mob fired on them. “Militants fired some rounds from the crowd in which some of our men were injured,” B. Srinivas, the inspector-general of police (operations), north Kashmir, said.

In all, 24 people, including three policemen and a CRPF jawan, were injured.

At Chontipora village in Handwara, a woman named Hajira was killed after a bullet fired by securitymen on protesters hit her in the head. She had been sitting by her window, watching the goings-on in the street below.

Agencies identified the woman as 18-year-old Fehmeeda.

Two more youths — Showkat Ahmad Khanday and Basit Ahmad — were killed at Narbal on Srinagar’s outskirts and in Tahab Pulwama in south Kashmir. Both were hit by bullets security personnel fired to scatter defiant crowds marching and pelting them with stones.

A police officer said Basit, 24, had got caught in the Pulwama crossfire. “The mob turned violent, forcing security forces to resort to lathicharge and teargas shelling. After the situation went out of control, the forces fired some shots in which the youth was killed,” he said.

There are, however, conflicting reports about Basit’s death. A report said he was standing a few yards from the clash site and was not participating in the protests.

Separatists had planned the march to Lal Chowk, Srinagar’s commercial hub, to oppose New Delhi’s rule. Three protest rallies had been taken out in the last 10 days, with the government choosing to wait and watch.

All roads leading to Lal Chowk were shut down today. The police put up corrugated tin sheets and barbed wires to block rallies towards the square. Thousands of policemen, paramilitary personnel and soldiers were deployed across the Valley.

This is the first time in 19 years that the police have arrested the Mirwaiz for fear of a flare-up in Srinagar’s old city, his stronghold.

The firing deaths have evoked sharp criticism all around. The co-ordination committee of the separatists has given a call for a “complete shutdown” tomorrow to protest the alleged police “highhandedness”.

“There will be a complete shutdown tomorrow. People have been asked to observe a blackout against the highhandedness of the Indian forces and the arrest of our leaders,” a committee spokesperson said.

Mehbooba Mufti of the People’s Democratic Party said the state’s “repressive measures” would not work. “It seems some vested interests, both within and outside the administration, want the vicious cycle of violence to continue in the Valley. They are continuously adding fuel to the fire by spraying bullets on peaceful protesters,” she said.

Violent protests rocked other parts of Kashmir, including Beerwah, Bandipora, Kupwara, Bijebhera and Tral, in which around 50 people were injured.

A CRPF officer was critically wounded when a protester sprang out of the crowd and stabbed him in Beerwah.