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Page last updated at 15:18 GMT, Friday, 27 June 2008 16:18 UK

Huge protests continue in Kashmir


Protest in Srinagar on Friday
The protests have been among the largest in recent years

Thousands of people in Indian-administered Kashmir have again protested over the transfer of land to a Hindu pilgrimage organisation.

The BBC's Altaf Hussain says that it appeared as if the entire population of the Muslim-majority Kashmir Valley had taken to the streets.

It is the fifth consecutive day of protests over the land transfer.

In the summer capital, Srinagar, at least 30,000 people converged on the historic Lal Chowk monument.

Holiest shrines

Similar protests have taken place across the Kashmir valley, with many shouting "We want freedom!" and "Stop the sale of Kashmir!"

Eye witnesses say that police fired teargas shells to break up a huge demonstration in the town of Pulwama, south of Srinagar.

The authorities have now imposed restrictions on assemblies of more than four people.

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

Schools, banks, shops and offices have all been closed and paramilitary soldiers and police have been patrolling the streets.

"We are not against the pilgrimage," one demonstrator told the BBC. "It has been going on for centuries and it should continue... But we do not want our land to be occupied by anyone."

Our correspondent says that surprisingly, the protests have passed off peacefully in most of places and the police have not made any attempt to stop them.

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

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.

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

Local environmentalists protested against the decision and local politicians joined them.

'Conspiracy'

Three Kashmiris have died in protests this week and nearly 200 have been injured, bringing back memories of widespread protests that swept the region after a separatist insurgency began in 1989.

Separatist groups say the transfer of land to the Shrine Board is part of a "conspiracy to settle non-local Hindus in the valley with a view to reducing the Muslims to a minority".

The main separatist leaders have been placed under house arrest and many tourists have hurriedly left the region.

The BBC's Chris Morris in Delhi says that ownership of land in Kashmir is an issue of great sensitivity, but the way these protests have spread has surprised many people after a prolonged period of calm when the focus shifted to investment and regeneration.

Our correspondent says that the trouble is that none of the underlying political issues which prompted years of insurgency have gone away.




SEE ALSO
Kashmir violence over shrine land
24 Jun 08 |  South Asia
Police stop Hindu pilgrim march
01 Jul 04 |  South Asia
Indian pilgrimage dates extended
29 Jun 04 |  South Asia
The pilgrimage to Amarnath
06 Aug 02 |  South Asia

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