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Page last updated at 17:26 GMT, Wednesday, 6 August 2008 18:26 UK

Indian leaders urge Kashmir talks

A Hindu protester in Jammu on 5 August 2008
A land transfer row has sparked anger among both Hindus and Muslims

Indian political leaders have appealed for calm after weeks of growing tension in Indian-administered Kashmir.

Prime Minister Manmohan Singh called all-party talks to discuss protests in the Muslim-dominated Kashmir valley and the Hindu-majority Jammu region.

A statement afterwards called for immediate dialogue to end the unrest.

The Jammu protesters are angry at a decision by the state government to revoke a move to allocate land for a Hindu shrine in the Kashmir valley.

"The all-party meeting was of the unanimous view that an environment must be created where the agitation could be suspended and the issue resolved through the process of dialogue," Foreign Minister Pranab Mukherjee told reporters after the talks.

"There was unanimity among all those present that the first step was the restoration of peace and normalcy."

Rioting

According to reports before the talks, the prime minister was expected to appeal to the Hindu nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) to help bring an end to the protests in Jammu.

BJP supporters have formed the bulk of the demonstrations in Jammu and the party's president, Rajnath Singh, was due to attend the meeting.

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Police fire tear-gas at protesters

Over the past couple of days, the BJP president has been in discussions with Congress party leader Sonia Gandhi and the prime minister.

At least nine people have been killed and many more injured in the Jammu protests over the past fortnight.

The latest death came on Wednesday when police opened fire during clashes with about 2,000 protesters in Kathua, about 90km (55 miles) south of Jammu.

A number of others, including police, were reported to have been injured in the violence.

Five Muslims were killed and hundreds wounded in the Kashmir valley in protests against plans to transfer land to the shrine board in June and July. A Muslim protester was also killed on Monday.

Police say that in other clashes in Jammu on Wednesday, 18 protesters and 12 policemen were injured in a clash at Jurian, a village on the outskirts of Jammu city.

Police fired tear gas and fired in the air after thousands of Hindu protesters burned a police post and a government office.

Police also say that railway traffic between Jammu and rest of the country was halted on Tuesday after rioting protesters damaged part of the tracks.

Policeman throws a stone at protesters in Srinagar
Tension is also high on the streets of Srinagar

Two Hindu protesters were killed in Jammu region on Monday when police opened fire at a similar protest.

Much of Jammu remains under curfew and troops and police are patrolling the streets.

Unrest has also broken out in the Muslim-majority Kashmir valley, where a general strike was called on Wednesday.

Separatist leader Syed Ali Shah Geelani has warned the Indian government not to take any decision regarding the land row which would be unacceptable to Muslims.

The BBC's Altaf Hussain in Srinagar said that shops, schools and other business establishments across the valley have closed and little traffic is on the roads.

Muslims argued the move to set up a shrine was aimed at altering the demographic balance in the area.

The Amarnath Shrine Board said that it needed 40 hectares of land to erect huts and toilets for visiting Hindu pilgrims.

All 10 members of the board resigned on Wednesday in a move which the Jammu and Kashmir governor said was necessary to make it more representative of the state's Hindu community.

The latest trouble comes after several years of relative calm in Indian-controlled Kashmir.


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