July 12 2010
A curfew imposed on most of Indian-controlled Kashmir has been lifted, despite clashes between demonstrators and security forces in the summer capital of Srinagar.
Separatists called a general strike on Sunday to protest against Indian rule of the predominantly Muslim region and civilian deaths during confrontations with authorities.
Thousands of security forces patrolled some residential areas in the capital, asking people to stay indoors, witnesses said.
Shops and businesses remained shut and some restrictions were imposed in some areas of the city. The region’s nearly 60 newspapers were unable to publish for a third day.
“There are prohibitory orders in some parts of the city [Srinagar] as well as in some other districts, but curfew has been lifted from the valley,” Muzaffar Ahmad, a police official, told the Reuters news agency.
“The situation generally remained peaceful across Kashmir valley, barring a few incidents of stone pelting.”
The Indian government originally introduced the curfew on Wednesday.
‘We want freedom’
During a 24-hour suspension of the curfew on Saturday, called to allow residents to celebrate the annual Miraj-un-Nabi festival, which commemorates the Prophet Muhammad’s night journey to the heavens, clashes broke out in three areas of Srinagar.
Indian forces used tear gas and batons to disperse rock-throwing protesters.
Elsewhere in the city, thousands of demonstrators shouting “We want freedom” and “Blood for blood,” followed Mirwaiz Umar Farooq, a separatist leader, through the streets.
“Our civil disobedience and peaceful marches will continue until India withdraws its military and paramilitary soldiers from populated areas,” Farooq, the chairman of the All Parties Hurriyat Conference, said, according to The Associated Press news agency.
Residents said security forces have killed 15 people during recent rallies, and the government sent in the army to quell the protests last week.
The Indian army had not been used for crowd control since major street demonstrations two decades ago.
The tension in the Himalayan region – divided between Indian and Pakistani control – was reminiscent of the late 1980s, when protests against Indian rule sparked an armed conflict that eventually killed more than 68,000 people, mostly civilians.
Recent strikes and the curfew have badly affected tourism in India’s Kashmir.
Many tourists have left the valley and the ones who remain face shortages of food and other basic amenities.
At present, tourist hubs like the Dal Lake are completely deserted.
“In the days to come, no tourist will come to Srinagar,” Muhammad Asif, a travel agent, said.
“The kind of unrest we have here, there will be no tourism left in Srinagar. Not only this year, even in the coming years nobody will come here if such a situation persists.
India and Pakistan have fought two wars over Kashmir.
India regularly accuses Pakistan of sending separatist fighters over the heavily militarised frontier to stir up trouble and has blamed the current protests on Pakistan-based groups bent on destabilising India, a charge Islamabad denies.