Kashmir burns on Eid, Omar slams separatists

Kashmir burns on Eid, Omar slams separatists

As the prayers ended at the famed Sufi shrine of Hazratbal in the morning, thousands egged on by moderate separatist leaders Mirwaiz Umar Farooq and Yasin Malik marched to the city centre Lal Chowk, indulging in arson attacks that took the Jammu and Kashmir administration by surprise.

It was one of the most violent days in Srinagar, the urban hub of a Muslim separatist drive raging since 1989 that has left thousands dead but shows no signs of ending.
As police and paramilitary personnel refrained from firing at the mobs so as not to kill civilians, the crowds went on an arson spree, starting right from the Hazratbal shrine where police barracks within the complex were set on fire.

The Mirwaiz-led procession later broke into smaller groups that torched the building of the state electricity department and offices of the Crime Branch of the Jammu and Kashmir Police, witnesses and officials said.

Chief Minister Omar Abdullah, who was in New Delhi for consultations with Indian leaders, charged the separatist leaders with "betrayal" and accused the men who led the prayers of provoking their supporters to resort to violence.
In no time, it became apparent that the violence had been carefully planned and executed, knowing well that the administration would hesitate to kill on a holy day like Eid.

As the first batch from the Hazratbal reached Lal Chowk, hundreds of young men riding motorcycles gathered there raising pro-independence slogans. Some climbed the historic clock tower and hoisted green flags - a colour that symbolizes Islam.
A policeman from the Crime Branch was beaten mercilessly with an iron rod, leading to his hospitalization.

One mob attacked the women police station in Rambagh area and the nearby office of the superintendent of police.

Giant flames rose in the sky as violence spread rapidly in Srinagar. Traffic on the roads quickly came to a halt and panic gripped the city as wild rumours did the rounds.
Police said mobs also attacked police stations in north Kashmir's Sopore and south Kashmir's Pulwama towns.

In Srinagar and other towns of the valley, authorities had not imposed curfew or restrictions Saturday to allow people to offer Eid prayers and celebrate the festival.
Police and the Central Reserve Police Force (CRPF) were posted at various sensitive places. But despite provocative slogans by the mobs, they enforced restraint and only fired gunshots in the air.

Speaking to reporters in New Delhi, a visibly anguished Abdullah decried the violence in Kashmir as "highly condemnable and unfortunate".

"The separatists have betrayed us by provoking the mobs to violence," he said, accusing the separatists of triggering unprovoked violence on a day of "festivities and peace".
The chief minister said Yasin Malik, who heads the Jammu and Kashmir Liberation Front (JKLF), had contacted his office and sought official approval for protests on Eid.
"While we permitted peaceful demonstrations, you saw what happened," Abdullah said, adding the "whole campaign of the separatists that the security forces have been provoking violence has been exposed".

In Srinagar, the chief minister's office disclosed that the Mirwaiz, who heads the so-called moderate wing of the Hurriyat Conference, had spoken to Abdullah Friday assuring him that the prayer congregations in Srinagar would remain peaceful.
A home ministry official in New Delhi told IANS that the central government "was monitoring the tense situation".

"There are sufficient forces stationed in the valley. We will respond as the situation develops," he added.

In Srinagar, Director General of Police Kuldeep Khoda praised his men and the paramilitary forces for showing "extreme restraint in view of Eid".
"The elements (separatists) who led the procession were bent upon provoking tension," he added.

Police blamed activists of the hardline Hurriyat group led by Syed Ali Geelani, who favours Jammu and Kashmir's merger with Pakistan, for the violence.

"Workers of the Hurriyat (Geelani) and Muslim League, who have been identified, disrupted the peaceful prayers at Hazratbal. Investigation reveals that these elements had planned in advance to provoke the administration and use the Eid congregations to disrupt festivities and create the misconception that this was a popular movement," a police statement said.

"(The) Geelani faction has been using hooligans to force people to participate in the protests," it said.

"This is the first time Eid congregations have been converted into protests and the people of Srinagar have not been allowed to celebrate Eid peacefully," it said. "Seeing the gathering at Eidgah and Lal Chowk, it seems that people by and large are being held hostage by the vested elements."

Saturday's orgy, however, saw no death. A total of 69 people, mostly teenagers, have been killed since June 11 by security forces while attempting to break up stone-pelting protesters.

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