08/13/2008, 00.00
INDIA
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Tens of thousands riot in Jammu-Kashmir

by Nirmala Carvalho
The conflict in the region is intensifying. The Muslims are defying the curfew, and clashing with police. Hindus are blocking roads and trains. Severe controversy between Pakistan and India, which says that the peace process is in danger.

New Delhi (AsiaNews) - Tens of thousands of Muslims have taken to the streets today in many parts of the Kashmir Valley, defying the curfew and throwing rocks at the police, who have dispersed them with batons and tear gas, with at least 20 policemen and demonstrators wounded. Meanwhile, in Jammu the militant Hindu nationalists are stoking the tension: Vishwa Hindu Parishad activists today blocked streets and trains in many cities, in protest against the government for taking some land away from the Hindu temple of Sri Amarnath. Pravin Togadia, secretary of the VHP, has promised to the media that there will soon be "a more vigorous and animated phase".

In the lower city of the capital Srinagar, thousands attended the funeral for two demonstrators killed yesterday by the police, shouting "we want freedom" and "there is no god but Allah". Offices and shops have been closed, while special prayers have been recited in many mosques and homes. Mirwaiz Umar Farooq, president of the separatist party All Parties Hurriyat (“freedom”) Conference, urges "Don't give (the) oppressor any chance to use brute force, to shower bullets. Continue protests peacefully".

The violence increased after the police, on August 11, killed moderate Islamic leader Sheikh Abdul Aziz, during a demonstration by tens of thousands of people near the border between the Indian and Pakistani parts of Kashmir. India had ordered the border closed, while Muslim merchants wanted to cross it to sell their goods in Pakistan as usual.

A curfew has been imposed, the first in Kashmir in 13 years, and yesterday the police fired on Muslim demonstrators who violated it. 13 died and at least 200 were wounded, including 85 policemen. In Kishtwar in Jammu, there have been clashes between Hindus and Muslims, with at least one killed and many wounded.

The protests began in June, when the government gave some land belonging to the Hindu temple of Sri Amarnath in Kashmir for the construction of facilities for pilgrims. Following violent protests by Muslims, which caused six deaths, the government revoked the grant. But this unleashed protests by the Hindus, who are in the majority in Jammu (this constitutes a single administrative area with Kashmir, where the majority is Muslim), with aggression against Muslims and the blocking of the only highway that links Kashmir with the country. The violence has continued since then on an almost daily basis, with frequent clashes in the streets between the two factions and with the police.

The protests are related to the unresolved question of Kashmir, which is divided between India and Pakistan and claimed by both countries, which have fought two wars over the territory. On August 11, Pakistan blasted India for its "excessive use of force" and for the death of the "martyr" Abdul Aziz. This brought a curt reply from India, which says that the peace process between the two countries is in danger.

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