Curfew imposed in Kashmir valley, separatist activists arrested
Authorities imposed an indefinite curfew on Muslim-majority areas of Indian-administered Kashmir early on Sunday and placed several separatist leaders under house arrest ahead of a major anti-India rally, dpa reported.
"The curfew was imposed in all 10 districts in Kashmir valley on Sunday, the second day of a three-day strike called by separatist groups who are demanding an end to Indian rule," a police official said.
The government said the curfew was a "precautionary measure" taken to protect separatist leaders whose lives were under threat. But officials admitted that the step was taken to prevent a protest march in the state capital of Srinagar on Monday.
The shut-down by the separatist Hurriyat group has disrupted life in the region with shops, banks, schools and most government offices closed. The strikers have been demanding a referendum which they said would lead to self-determination for the region.
Soon after the curfew was imposed, separatist leaders Syed Ali Shah Geelani, Mohammed Yaseen Malik and Mirwaiz Umer Farooq were put under house arrest, while 30 separatist activists including Hurriyat group spokesman Ayaz Akbar were arrested.
There were attempts to defy the curfew in some areas. About two dozen people, including two policemen, were injured when protestors clashed with security forces in the central Budgam region.
Following a rally on Friday in which an estimated 50,000 Kashmiris marched to the Idgah grounds to offer prayers, separatist leaders called for a march to Srinagar city centre on Monday.
Hurriyat Chairman Mirwaiz Farooq said the protest march would be held on Monday despite curfew restrictions.
"It is really unfortunate that the government of India has resorted to its old policy of suppression and oppression. All the protests have been peaceful and there hasn't been a single incident of arson," he said.
"We will go ahead with Monday's rally. It's meant to be a peaceful one. The authorities have been unnerved by millions participating in the protests," he said.
However, the state administration has given strict orders for dealing with violators of the orders.
The unrest, the most widespread in the region in over a decade, has seen clashes between protestors and the security forces in the Kashmir valley that led to the deaths of 23 people over the past two weeks.
The protests, sparked by a row over the allocation of government land to a Hindu cave shrine, have taken an anti-Indian turn in the Kashmir valley and led to deep communal division in the Jammu region in the south, which has a large Hindu population.
While the Hindu groups in the Jammu region have been holding protests to demand land be given to the Hindu shrine, the Muslims in the north have been protesting against it.
The disputed Kashmir region is divided into two parts - one administered by India and the other by Pakistan. The South Asian neighbours have fought two of their three wars over Kashmir.
While a section of Kashmiri separatists want independence for India-administered Kashmir, another wants it to join Pakistan.