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Kashmir protests over land transfer continue

Srinagar, June 28, 2008:

The weeklong protests over the controversial land transfer to Amarnath Shrine Board continued in Indian administered Kashmir Saturday, while as the major ally in the government, the Peopleís Democratic Party, has withdrawn its support.

Reports of clashes between police and protestors poured in from many places in the summer capital Srinagar as well as in the districts as day after one of the biggest demonstrations in recent years.

On Friday tens of thousands of people flooded the streets in Srinagar after noon prayers, demolishing paramilitary posts and hoisting green flags on the clock tower in Lal Chowk, where authorities host Indian flags on her independence and republic day.

The protestors were met with lesser resistance from police than the previous four days. Earlier three people were killed and hundreds injured in police action on protestors during the week.

Raising pro-freedom, pro-Pakistan and anti-India slogans, tens of thousands of protestors from various parts of Srinagar, the summer capital of Indian administered Kashmir and its outskirts converged to the City Centre, Lal Chowk (Red Square) near the Ganta Ghar (clock tower) in presence of Indian paramilitary troopers.

The events of the week have brought back memories of the 90ís when massive demonstrations and widespread street clashes with police were common in the region.

The historical clock tower and the city square were draped with flags of resistance, Islam and Pakistan in the 1990ís soon after an armed anti-India insurgency, backed by popular support left little control with the state.

The recent protests erupted after the controversial transfer of around 100 acres of forest land to Amarnath Shrine Board and gradually snowballed.

Much of the controversy is blamed on the former governor, S K Sinha who headed the board for the last six years.

Each summer thousands of Indian Hindu devotees from all over India trek a difficult mountainous terrain to get a glimpse of an ice stalagmite inside the Amarnath cave, believed to be a of symbol Hindu god Lord Shiva.

The land transfer issue has brought together the estranged faction of major Kashmiri separatist alliance the All Parties Hurriyat Conference.

The chairman of the moderate faction of the Hurriyat Conference, Mirwaiz Umar Farooq, called on the hardline faction chairman Syed Ali Shah Geelani, five years after they split, to launch a joint agitation against the land transfer.

Reminiscent of the 90ís pro-freedom, pro-Pakistan and anti-India slogans are reverberating the nook and corner of Kashmir Valley.

Businesses and offices are shut, transport is off the roads and even the essential services have been affected.

Most of the separatist leaders have also been place under house arrest since Tuesday to stop them from leading the protests and drawing even bigger crowds.

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