(AFP) – Aug 15, 2008
SRINAGAR, India (AFP) — Thousands of Muslims protested New Delhi's rule in Kashmir in the region's main city Friday, with some burning the national flag on India's independence day, witnesses and officials said.
Srinagar and other parts of the Muslim-majority Kashmir valley have recently been rocked by some of the biggest protests since an anti-India insurgency erupted in 1989.
Street battles this week have left at least 22 dead -- all of them Muslim youths -- and hundreds injured in police firings.
On Friday, thousands of Muslim separatists -- whose leaders called for a boycott of India's independence celebrations -- waved black flags as they marched through Srinagar, chanting "We want freedom" and "Kashmir is ours".
Thousands of worshippers emerged from the city's main mosque after Friday prayers and burnt several Indian flags, witnesses said.
The rally came despite tight security in the city, where a curfew was lifted after four days. A general strike emptied roads and closed shops.
There were no reports of disruption to official functions marking India's 1947 independence, which sowed the seeds of the Kashmir dispute.
Defence spokesman S.D. Goswami told AFP there was intelligence that Islamic militants might "try to carry out attacks," and that two suspected rebels armed with hand grenades had been arrested early Friday.
The head of the Kashmir government, governor N.N. Vohra, unfurled India's national flag in the high-security Bakshi stadium in Srinagar.
Residents stayed away, except for a few dozen students from the police school.
In his address to the nation in New Delhi, Prime Minister Manmohan Singh described the latest violence in Kashmir -- which is held in part by India and Pakistan, but claimed in full by both -- as a major cause for concern.
"In this hour of crisis, divisive politics will lead us nowhere," he said, appealing for all parties to unite to solve the state's problems.
"It is my conviction that all issues can be resolved only through dialogue and peaceful means," he said.
The unrest was triggered by a Kashmir government move in June to donate land to a Hindu shrine trust. The decision was later reversed, angering Hindus who dominate the south of Jammu and Kashmir state.
Hindu extremists then began blocking the only road link to the Kashmir valley, sparking a fresh wave of protests in Muslim areas.
Vohra, making his speech from behind a bullet-proof screen, echoed the prime minister's words.
"I make a sincere appeal to the people of the state to maintain peace and calm in this difficult hour," he said.
Meanwhile, Pakistani troops unleashed small arms fire on Indian positions from across the de facto border dividing Kashmir between the two nations, the Indian army said. There were no casualties.
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