(AFP) – Jun 25, 2012
SRINAGAR, India — A major fire gutted a 200-year-old, revered Sufi Muslim shrine in Indian Kashmir Monday, sparking clashes between police and residents in the region's summer capital Srinagar, police said.
Nearly two dozen people were injured in the violence, triggered by anger at the perceived delayed response of firefighters in battling the blaze.
There was no immediate confirmation of the cause of the fire at the Peer Dastageer Sahib shrine, one of the most revered Sufi sites in Indian Kashmir which houses a relic of the 11th century Sufi saint, Sheikh Abdul Qadir.
Witnesses noticed the fire in the upper floor on Monday morning and it quickly engulfed the wooden structure.
"Ten policemen and an equal number of protesters have been injured in the clashes," senior police officer Shiv Murari Sahai told AFP.
"We are ascertaining the cause of the fire," Sahai said.
Kashmir is India's only Muslim-majority state and a long-running separatist insurgency has made for perennial tensions between residents and the security forces that often spill over into violence.
Sufism is the predominant Islamic tradition followed by Kashmiri Muslims.
Local resident Muhammed Yusuf Khan and other witnesses claimed the fire tenders arrived late on the scene and were not properly equipped to handle the blaze.
To control the ensuing violence and prevent large-scale protests, authorities placed the region's chief Muslim cleric Mirwaiz Umar Farooq and some other separatist leaders under pre-emptive house arrest.
Various separatist parties and religious groups called for a protest shutdown in the state on Tuesday.
The chief custodian of the shrine, Syed Khalid Hussein, said all relics, handwritten copies of Koran and other sacred articles housed in the shrine were safe.
But the main structure, a renowned example of Kashmiri architecture with ornate ceilings and elaborate carvings, was completely gutted.
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