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200,000 Muslims protest Indian rule in Kashmir

200,000 Muslims protest Indian rule in Kashmir

Hundreds of thousands of Muslims gathered in Indian Kashmir's main city Friday for the largest protest against Indian rule in two months of turmoil that have roiled the Himalayan region.
Long lines of people carrying green and black protest flags streamed to a sprawling main square in Srinagar, the region's main city, for the rally called by a coalition of separatist political parties. Schools, businesses and shops were shut across the region and public transportation was halted.
The massive crowd _ estimated by police at about 200,000 people _ chanted anti-India slogans as they waited for a prayer session and speeches from separatist leaders.
"This is a freedom movement, a people's movement. We are united to fight India until we get freedom," said Salman Ahmed, a 27-year-old protester.
Several thousand police officers in riot gear patrolled the streets ahead of the rally but later pulled back from the site _ apparently in a bid to reduce tensions.
The protest followed a three-day hiatus that allowed residents to stock up on supplies after nearly two months of unrest in Indian-administered Kashmir pitting the region's Muslim majority against the Hindu minority. The violence has left at least 34 people dead, most of them protesters shot during clashes with police and soldiers.
The crowds converged on the Eidgah grounds, a large square near the Martyr's Graveyard where hundreds of separatist rebels and civilians who died in the region's 19-year insurgency are buried.
A statement from the organizers said the march was called to honor "martyrs of the movement and pray for Kashmir's freedom from the colonial oppression."
The crisis began in June with a dispute over land for pilgrims visiting a Hindu shrine. Muslims launched protests complaining that a government decision to transfer land to a Hindu trust was actually a settlement plan meant to alter the religious balance in the region. After the plan was rescinded Hindus took to the streets demanding it be restored.
The unrest has unleashed pent-up tensions between Kashmir's Muslims and Hindus and threatened to snap the bonds between India and its only Muslim-majority state.
There is a long history of separatist movements in Kashmir, which has been divided between India and Pakistan since 1948. Most were peaceful until 1989, when a bloody Islamic insurgency began. The insurgents want to see India's part of the region merged with Pakistan or given independence.
At least 68,000 people have been killed in the fighting since 1989.


Updated : 2021-05-17 19:02 GMT+08:00