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Government buildings burn on Eid in Srinagar

Last updated on: September 11, 2010 18:54 IST

Govt buildings burn on Eid in Srinagar

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Mukhtar Ahmad in Srinagar

Fresh violence and pro-independence demonstrations rocked Srinagar after the Eid congregational prayers at the end of violence-filled holy fasting month of Ramadan.

The city also witnessed violent clashes and arson by protestors, who torched a police barrack at the historic Hazratbal shrine and a police vehicle.

The mobs also torched a police post and an office complex in the civil line area, meters away from the civil secretariat, the state's seat of power.

The protests erupted spontaneously as the Eid prayers ended late Saturday morning with thousands of people marching to the city centre, Lal Chowk from various parts of the city.

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Image: People watch as government buildings burn after being set on fire by protesters in Srinagar
Photographs: Danish Ismail/Reuters
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A huge procession led by the moderate All Parties Hurriyat Conference chairman Mirwaiz Moulvi Umar Farooq started from the Eidgah grounds where tens of thousands of people offered the Eid prayers.

Passing through the various old city areas, the procession made its way to the city centre covering a distance of five km in nearly three hours.

The rally at Lal Chowk was organised jointly by several separatist leaders, including Moderate Hurriyat chairman Mirwaiz Umar Farooq, JKLF Chairman Mohammad Yasin Malik and acting chairman of hard line faction Nissar Hussain Rather. 

The Mirwaiz called for an half-an-hour sit in protest in the heart of the city and later left for his home despite assurances made by him that the crowd will disperse quietly after the sit-in.


Image: Kashmiris march during an anti-India protest in Srinagar
Photographs: Danish Ismail/Reuters
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During his Eid sermon at Eidgah, where thousands of people offered prayers, the Mirwaiz asked them to march to Lal Chowk to stage a 30-minute protest against the recent killing of people in Kashmir.

Chanting 'we want freedom' and anti-India slogans, the procession comprised of mostly youth with scores of them wearing masks to hide their faces.

As the procession reached Lal Chowk, massive sloganeering by cheering mobs greeted it.

Earlier groups of youth climbed the clock tower and hoisted flags on it.


Image: Government buildings burn after being set on fire by protesters in Srinagar
Photographs: Danish Ismail/Reuters
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They damaged the woodwork of the clock tower, which was recently undertaken as part of the chief minister's Lal Chowk beautification plan.

Hundreds of people had seated themselves in the buildings around the clock tower.

Processions had started flowing into Lal Chowk since early morning with people on foot as well atop vehicles shouting slogans and thronging the area around the clock tower.

A huge procession of youth riding motorcycles and carrying banners and flags made rounds of the city centre, as the authorities chose to withdraw the police and Central Reserve Police Force personnel from the entire city to avoid clashes and casualties.


Image: Kashmiris raise their hands while chanting anti-India slogans during an anti-India protest in Srinagar
Photographs: Danish Ismail/Reuters
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Govt buildings burn on Eid in Srinagar

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Addressing the huge gathering, Mirwaiz said that 'his efforts to forge unity among the various separatist groups will shortly bear fruit'.

Soon after a protest rally organised by separatist leaders at Lal Chowk, a group of youth barged into the office of Chief Engineer Power Development Department near Exhibition Crossing in Srinagar and set it on fire.

The adjacent building housing the Crime Branch office was also engulfed in flames within no time and the blaze spread rapidly as the building is mostly made of wood.


Image: Protestors on top of the clocktower
Photographs: Umar Ganie
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Govt buildings burn on Eid in Srinagar

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Police had been clearly instructed that there should be no firing on the mob.

Several rounds were fired in air to disperse the mob and fire tenders were pressed into service to douse the flames.

The protestors also indulged in stone pelting on the fire tenders rushed to the area to control the blaze.

The security forces are now patrolling the city centre.


Image: Kids chant pro-freedom slogans during the procession
Photographs: Umar Ganie
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A strong mob also tried to torch the office complex of superintendent of police at Rambagh in the city uptown.

In the historic Hazratbal shrine, where Chief Minister Omar Abdullah was initially scheduled to offer the Eid prayers, mob violence was witnessed after the prayers.

Omar, however, cancelled his programme to offer the prayers there on the advice of the security top brass.

The mobs, shouting pro-freedom slogans, torched a police barrack and a vehicle as the security forces fired volleys of warning shots to disperse the protestors.


Image: Thousands took part in the processions
Photographs: Umar Ganie
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A police spokesman said that Mirwaiz Moulvi Umar Farooq had assured that there would be no violence. The assurances proved false.

"Mirwaiz incited the situation by leading a procession to Lal Chowk taking the advantage of Eid congregation and thus vitiated the Eid celebrations in Srinagar," the spokesman said. 

"Today's protests were uncalled for as people wanted to celebrate Eid after a month long fasting. But violence like today's will result in set back for any initiative that the government can think for breaking the impasse," Omar said, reacting to the violent protests.


Image: A government building on fire
Photographs: Umar Ganie
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Accusing the Mirwaiz and JKLF Chief Yaseen Malik of failing in their duty to maintain peace, Omar said, "It was the Mirwaiz's office, which approached a senior official in my government and requested for permission to have a march to Lal Chowk."

"They were repeatedly asked whether the mob will go out of control, but the repeated insistence from the separatist camp for allowing them a political space for peaceful march made me overrule the suggestions of my police officials. However, whatever has happened later in Lal Chowk can be termed as betrayal of trust," he said. 

While the Chief Minister refrained from naming the close aide of the Mirwaiz, but sources said the offer was made by the Hurriyat Chairman through Shahid-ul-Islam, a former chief of terrorist group Hizbullah.


Image: A policeman fires warning shots to disperse the mob
Photographs: Umar Ganie
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The Mirwaiz aide reasoned out that the march was a political necessity for them as the space for separatists in the Valley was shrinking fast, the sources said. However, as the mob in Lal Chowk started turning hostile, the Mirwaiz and his aides quickly disappeared from the scene.

Asked whether such incidents would cast a shadow on the talks about partial removal of Armed Forces Special Powers Act (AFSPA), Omar said: "While we want the changes to take place, such incidents would definitely have a bearing on any moves to restore peace."

Reacting to the Chief Minister, the Mirwaiz said it was people's anger that was playing out on the street though he would not justify the violence.


Image: Mirwaiz Moulvi Umar Farooq addressing the gathering
Photographs: Umar Ganie
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