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Kashmir turmoil

SRINAGAR: Police shot dead 14 people in Indian Kashmir yesterday as Muslim protests against what they said was an economic blockade by Hindus over a land row began to morph into independence calls.

More than 100 people were also injured in a dozen separate incidents of police firing across Kashmir a day after four people, including a separatist leader, were killed by police trying to stop Muslim protesters from crossing into Pakistan.

Muslim protesters shouted slogans against the government as they buried the separatist leader in downtown Srinagar.

"This is not protest against land transfer, in fact this is anger against India," Pakiza Dar, a college teacher, yelled.

"Down with security forces, we want freedom," others shouted.

A land dispute has polarised Indian Kashmir, split between the Muslim-majority Kashmir valley and the Hindu-dominated region around Jammu city, severely curbing trade between the two areas. As a result, traders in Kashmir are trying to sell their goods in neighbouring Pakistan.

Also yesterday, 50,000 Muslims defied a curfew in Bandipora, 60km north of Srinagar, Kashmir's summer capital, to protest against Monday's killings.

Protests erupted as Kashmir's main separatist alliance, the All Parties Hurriyat (Freedom) Conference, prepared to bury senior leader Shaikh Aziz, among the four people killed by police as he led Monday's march.

"Shaikh Aziz's death is big loss to the Kashmiri nation. We will take his mission to its logical end," said Hurriyat chairman Mirwaiz Umar Farooq.

Meanwhile, India reacted angrily to a statement by Pakistani Foreign Minister Shah Mehmood Qureshi, condemning "excessive and unwarranted force" in Kashmir.

"Such statements by leaders of a foreign country do not help the situation. Nor do they contribute to creating the atmosphere necessary for the dialogue process between India and Pakistan to move forward," India's foreign ministry spokesman said.

Indian authorities also denied any economic blockade and said lorries, guarded by policemen and soldiers, were plying the region's main 300km highway, the only surface link between Kashmir valley and the rest of India. The dispute began after the Kashmiri government promised to give forest land to the trust that runs Amarnath, a cave shrine visited by Hindu pilgrims. Many Muslims were enraged. The government then backed down from its decision, which in turn angered many Hindus in Jammu.



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