Eid prayers turn to protests in Kashmir

2011-08-31 15:41

Srinagar - Thousands of demonstrators on Wednesday staged noisy anti-India protests in revolt-hit Kashmir after prayers to mark the end of the Muslim fasting month of Ramadan.

Thousands of Muslims poured into the streets, shouting, "We want freedom!" and "Allah is great," after offering Eid prayers in the northern town of Sopore, about an hour's drive from Indian Kashmir's summer capital Srinagar.

The protests were led by hardline separatist Syed Ali Geelani following prayers for the Muslim Eid al-Fitr festival.

Geelani addressed a huge gathering in Sopore's main square, urging India to end its "occupation of Kashmir".

"People of India are our brothers. We have no animosity towards them. We only urge India to end its occupation of Kashmir," Geelani said, as mainly young Kashmiri men chanted: "Go India, go back!"

Sopore was once the bastion of pro-Pakistan militants but in recent years the guerrilla presence has lessened following the start of a peace process between nuclear-armed India and Pakistan.

Tear gas used to disperse crowd

In Srinagar, meanwhile, police used tear gas to disperse crowds after another top separatist and leading cleric Mirwaiz Umar Farooq addressed thousands of worshippers as pro-freedom slogans rang out.

Farooq later urged India's leading anti-corruption crusader Anna Hazare to "also voice concern over the deteriorating human rights situation in Kashmir".

"People like Hazare should help us in ending human rights violations by troops in our state," Farooq told the crowd.

Anti-India sentiments run high in Kashmir where security forces are often accused of human rights violations by the local population. Indian officials say they investigate every claim and punish the guilty.

Hazare ended his 12-day fast last weekend when the Indian government conceded to the former army truck driver's demands for tough anti-corruption legislation.

Kashmir is in the grip of a more than 20-year-old insurgency against Indian rule that has left more than 47 000 people dead.

Indian Kashmir remains under heavy military control but this summer has not seen the cycle of violence and strict curfews that hit the disputed Himalayan region in recent years.

Kashmir is divided between India and Pakistan, but claimed in its entirety by both nations. The dispute has triggered two of the three wars fought by the neighbours since independence from colonial rule in 1947.