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Page last updated at 15:11 GMT, Monday, 1 September 2008 16:11 UK

Muslim anger over Kashmir deal

People in Jammu celebrate after the government handed over land for a Hindu pilgrimage
Hindus were jubilant over the deal

The Indian authorities are maintaining a curfew in the mainly Muslim Kashmir valley after a controversial land decision over a Hindu pilgrimage.

Some 100 acres of land are to be set aside for use by a Hindu trust during an annual Hindu pilgrimage.

Muslims have expressed anger over the move, with some defying the curfew after Sunday's decision was announced.

But Hindus have welcomed the move and called off their protests in the long-running dispute.

Meanwhile a senior separatist leader, Shabir Shah, faces up to two years in prison without trial after being charged with activities prejudicial to the security of India.

Scepticism

The dispute over the pilgrimage land began in May when the state government said 99 acres (40 hectares) of state-controlled land would be given to the Amarnath Shrine Trust, a group that safeguards the annual Hindu pilgrimage to the Amarnath cave, one of the holiest shrines in Hinduism.

The move unleashed anger among Kashmir Muslims and since June there has been a re-emergence of mass demonstrations calling for independence from India.

Curfew in Srinagar, August 25 2008
Thousands of troops are enforcing the curfew in Srinagar

Not long after the Muslim protests started, the state government abandoned the land transfer. That resulted in Hindus concentrated in the Jammu region of the state taking to the streets and blockading the main supply routes to Srinagar.

Some 40 people have been killed in the protests, most of them Muslim.

Sunday's agreement means that the Amarnath Shrine Trust will now have exclusive use of the land for the duration of the pilgrimage.

In recent years the pilgrimage has lasted up to two months.

The BBC's Altaf Hussain in Srinagar says the government's decision to restore the land to the Hindu shrine trust for the period of the pilgrimage has been greeted with scepticism from people in the Kashmir valley.

"We know what temporary means. Indian troops came to Kashmir after the state's temporary accession to India. But they have not gone back since," a prominent trader in the valley, Mushtaq Sagar, said.

Rahil Sheikh, another resident of the valley, told the BBC that "people will not give up and the struggle will continue".

"So many Kashmiri youth have been killed [during the land row agitation]. But all that has gone waste. Our blood is cheaper than water."

Mixed reaction

India and Pakistan both claim sovereignty over Kashmir - India's only Muslim-majority state - and have fought two wars over it. Many people there want an independent Kashmir.

Mainstream political parties that favour a solution to the Kashmir dispute that keeps it under Indian sovereignty have given a mixed reaction to the government decision.

The National Conference, along with the Congress and Bharatiya Janata Party, have welcomed the agreement.

But the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP), the former ruling party, has criticised the decision, saying it was "reached without consulting the people of the valley".

On Sunday police fired rubber bullets to disperse protesters defying the curfew in Srinagar, injuring one person.

In contrast there were scenes of jubilation in mainly Hindu Jammu region.

"It was not only a matter of getting land back, but a question of Jammu's identity, which has been overshadowed by the Kashmir [valley]," said a resident, Sushil Sharma.

Charged

Meanwhile the authorities have taken further measures against political leaders who want independence from India.

Shabir Shah, who was arrested on Friday, has been charged under the Public Safety Act (PSA) that provides for detention without trial for up to two years, as has another separatist, Mohammad Ashraf Sehrai.

Last week Asiya Andrabi was charged under the PSA.

However, one prominent separatist arrested early last week, Syed Ali Shah Geelani, was released on Monday. Reports said two other separatists, Mirwaiz Umar Farooq and Yasin Malik, would be released later in the day.




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