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Thursday, 12 September, 2002, 12:30 GMT 13:30 UK
Gunfight disrupts Kashmir funeral
Mourners at Mustaq Amhad Lone's residence
Mourners turned out in stength to grieve for Mr Lone
A gunfight between militants and security forces in Indian-administered Kashmir has disrupted the funeral of a minister assassinated on Wednesday.

About 2,000 frightened mourners ran for cover in the remote village of Sogam, in Kupwara district near the Pakistan border, when they heard shooting and loud explosions in nearby hills, eyewitnesses said.

Mushtaq Ahmad Lone
Mushtaq Ahmad Lone: Governing party candidate
Three Indian soldiers are reported to have been injured in the 30-minute exchange of fire, but the funeral, at which a number of senior politicians were present, was later able to continue.

Mushtaq Amhad Lone, law minister in the Jammu and Kashmir state government, was among 18 people killed on Wednesday in a wave of attacks carried out by militant separatists fighting Indian rule.

"This village has lost its godfather," one local told Reuters news agency.

There was extremely tight security in Sogam, where Indian junior Foreign Minister Omar Abdullah and his father, Kashmir Chief Minister Farooq Abdullah, were among those in attendance.

'Sabotage'

Indian Defence Minister George Fernandes was due to fly to the village, but had not yet arrived when firing broke out.

He has been holding talks in Kashmir's summer capital, Srinagar, to review security, following an upsurge in violence during campaigning for state elections which begin on Monday.

Mr Lone was shot dead while addressing an election rally. At least two Islamic militant groups have said they carried out the attack.

Election officers say voting will be postponed in Mr Lone's constituency, Lolab, because of his murder.

Indian Prime Minister Atal Behari Vajpayee said the killing was aimed at sabotaging the vote.

Other candidates in Kashmir are now expressing concern over their own security.

Boycott

Wednesday was the bloodiest day yet in the violent run-up to the controversial vote in Kashmir, India's only Muslim majority state.

Kashmiri man reads election posters in Srinagar
Separatists are boycotting the polls
Two separate attacks killed four Indian soldiers and a number of civilians, one a 12-year-old girl, as well as Mr Lone.

His political party, currently in power in the disputed territory, favours autonomy, but under Indian sovereignty.

The militants back Pakistan's claim to all of Kashmir's territory.

They have threatened to kill anyone who takes part in the election, describing them as traitors.

The main separatist alliance has urged a boycott.

India says Pakistan is behind the violence - a charge Islamabad denies.

The nuclear rivals came close to war earlier this year over similar attacks by Muslim militants in Delhi and elsewhere.

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11 Sep 02 | South Asia
17 Aug 02 | South Asia
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06 Aug 02 | South Asia
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