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Page last updated at 09:47 GMT, Thursday, 26 June 2008 10:47 UK

Land protests shut down Kashmir

By Altaf Hussain
BBC News, Srinagar

Protests in Kashmir against transfer of land for a pilgrimage
The separatist groups say the decision to transfer land is a 'conspiracy'

Life in Indian-controlled Kashmir is at a standstill for the fourth day in a row after more protests over land transfers for a Hindu pilgrimage site.

Shops across the Kashmir valley are shut and roads empty of traffic. Banks, colleges and businesses are closed.

Three people have been shot dead by police in three days of protests in India's only Muslim-majority state.

Every year, thousands of Hindus flock to Amarnath cave, considered one of the holiest shrines of the Hindu faith.

The authorities say temporary structures are needed for the pilgrims, but protesters accuse officials of seeking to change the demographic balance in the area.

'Conspiracy'

Thousands of people took to the streets again on Thursday in towns across the disputed Himalayan region.

The protests began after the state government transferred 40 hectares of forest land to the Shri Amarnath Shrine Board - the organisation which organises the pilgrimage.

We are protesting against the land transfer, which is one of India's grand designs to consolidate the occupation
Mohammad Iqbal,
Srinagar protester

The government said the land was needed for the construction of pre-fabricated huts and toilets for the pilgrims.

Environmentalists protested against the decision and local politicians joined them in opposing the issue.

Hard-line and moderate separatist groups say the transfer of land is part of a "conspiracy to settle non-local Hindus in the valley with a view to reducing the Muslims to a minority".

Pro-India political parties have also opposed the transfer of land.

Protests in Kashmir against transfer of land for a pilgrimage
Amarnath cave is considered one of the holiest shrines of the Hindu faith

Meanwhile, many Hindu majority areas of the state are on strike to oppose the protests.

On Thursday there were reports of clashes between protesters and police in several parts of the Kashmir valley, besides the city of Srinagar.

Two protesters were killed when police fired to disperse crowds on Wednesday. Another was hit by a bullet and died on Monday.

Sensitive

Much of the controversy is being blamed on the former governor of the state, SK Sinha, who left office on Tuesday.

The governor is the ex-officio head of the shrine board.

Gen Sinha has said the shrine board is not answerable to the state assembly.

Gulmarg
Sale of land to outsiders in prohibited in Kashmir

Kashmiris have been historically sensitive about transfers of land in the state.

Many of them feel that the only way to preserve their identity is by retaining control of the land.

Under residency laws, non-Kashmiris cannot buy land in the state.

The late, popular Kashmiri leader Sheikh Mohammed Abdullah's decision to allow investors from outside the state to lease land for industry is still criticised by locals.

Last year, the government allowed property developers from outside the state to bid for land at the resort of Gulmarg.

The decision had be withdrawn in the face of public opposition.


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