Curfew-hit Kashmir on edge amid fears of fresh violence

Srinagar : Curfew continued in parts of the Kashmir Valley on Monday amid fears of more violence where 21 people have been killed in clashes with police and paramilitary forces following the death of senior militant commander Burhan Wani last week.

Authorities have also suspended the annual Amarnath pilgrimage and tourists were hastily leaving the valley that appeared to be caught in a vicious cycle of deadly street protests and counter violence.

Police sources said fresh clashes broke out in many parts of the valley early on Monday as young men armed with rocks defied prohibitory orders to hurl stones at paramilitary pickets.

There were no reports of fresh deaths or injuries. But doctors at four tertiary hospitals in Srinagar said they were treating hundreds of civilians and policemen who were wounded, many critically, in the street violence since Friday evening.

The violence has already claimed the lives of 21 civilians and a police driver. Most deaths occurred in clashes with security forces in Anantnag, Shopian, Kulgam and Pulwama districts of south Kashmir.

“The situation is under control. There were sporadic incidents of mob violence in Srinagar and parts of south Kashmir,” a police spokesman told IANS here.

At many places in Srinagar, hundreds of people gathered in mosques located in the interiors of the old city, shouting anti-India and pro-freedom slogans.

And for the first time since the late 1980s and mid-1990s when separatist sentiments were at its peak, pro-freedom songs were played on mosque loudspeakers, asking people to join the mass protests.

The valley has been on the edge since Wani, 22, a new face of Kashmir’s separatist war, was killed with two of his associates by security forces in a south Kashmir village.

Four police stations, 36 civil administration offices and dozens of vehicles have been destroyed by unruly mobs in clashes over the weekend.

Three policemen who were taken hostage by mobs in south Kashmir on Friday returned safely on Sunday evening. But their weapons were seized, police said here on Monday.

The embattled Chief Minister Mehbooba Mufti is facing a huge challenge of providing security to the thousands of Amarnath pilgrims stranded in various parts of the valley. The Amarnath Hindu cave shrine is located in south Kashmir where most civilian deaths have occurred.

An official told IANS that they would allow the pilgrims to move only after their safety was ensured.

On Sunday, a mob overran a bullet-proof police vehicle and rolled it down into the Jhelum river at Sangam in Anantnag, drowning its constable driver while other policemen fled the scene.

Authorities have curbed the movement of all senior separatist leaders including Syed Ali Shah Geelani and Mirwaiz Umar Farooq. They have been placed under house arrest.

But Jammu and Kashmir Liberation Front (JKLF) leader Yaseen Malik has been arrested and is lodged in a Srinagar lockup.