Strike paralyses Kashmir as curfew is lifted

February 17, 2013 - 4:45:14 am

Paramilitary soldiers stand guard next to barbed wire during a strike in Srinagar in response to a strike call given by a hardline separatist group against the execution of Afzal Guru, the main accused in the 2001 Indian parliament attack.

SRINAGAR: A curfew imposed in Kashmir after the execution of Mohammed Afzal Guru, a separatist convicted over a 2001 attack on parliament, was lifted yesterday, but a general strike against the hanging paralysed the region.

Authorities declared the curfew last weekend, shut down mobile Internet services and blocked newspapers to contain unrest over the execution of Guru.

But as the curfew was lifted, separatist groups opposed to Indian rule in the Muslim-majority region announced a two-day general strike that closed businesses, schools and banks and kept public transport off roads.

“The curfew has been lifted from all the areas and whatever restrictions you may see now are because of the (separatist) shutdown,” said Shiv Murari Sahai, a senior police official, said in Kashmir’s main city Srinagar.

Much of Kashmir remained under tight security with thousands of police and paramilitary forces deployed in riot gear.

Three people died during the week as demonstrators defied the curfew, including a teenaged boy shot by Indian security forces.

Guru was convicted of conspiring with Islamist militants who raided parliament in 2001 and brought India and Pakistan to the brink of war.

Politicians say the execution could feed anti-India feeling and fuel more violence in Kashmir, where a separatist conflict has claimed an estimated 100,000 lives over the last 20 years.

The one-time fruit merchant and medical college dropout had insisted he was innocent and that he was denied proper legal defence. Protesters have accused police of framing him.

Guru’s execution was mired in further controversy after his family said they learned about his death from television.

His family has rejected an offer by Indian authorities to pray at his graveside inside the prison where he was executed, insisting his body be buried in Kashmir.

A grave with headstone has been readied for Guru in the so-called “Martyrs’ Graveyard” in Srinagar with an inscription reading: “His mortal remains are lying in trust with the government of India. The Kashmiri nation awaits its return.”

Some incidents of youth pelting security forces with stones were reported from Nowhatta area of old Srinagar.

A Spanish tourist was among five people injured Friday in the Kashmir Valley as sporadic protests erupted against Guru’s hanging.

Despite a valley-wide curfew, protestors took to the streets in areas and clashed with security forces.