Kashmir peaceful, army to standby till next week

Srinagar/New Delhi, July 10 (Calcutta Tube) Barring a few stray incidents of violence, most parts of the Kashmir Valley were peaceful Saturday as the curfew relaxations continued after three days of restrictions, but Chief Minister Omar Abdullah said the army would be on standby till next week.

‘There has been no major incident since Friday’ when the curfew was lifted to allow people to offer prayers at night on the occasion of Shab-e-Mehraj (ascension of the Prophet to heaven), Omar Abdullah said in an interview to NDTV news channel in Srinagar.

He said since Friday, the army was doing ‘standby duties only’ in the Valley. ‘It has not been deployed on the streets.’

Asked when he expected to withdraw the army, Omar said: ‘When we have that level of confidence, we will send back the army. It may be some time next week.’

Curfew was clamped in the Kashmir Valley following widespread violence after the death of a dozen people in firing by security forces. The army was called in to stage flag marches, for the first time in more than a decade.

On Friday evening, the curfew was relaxed throughout the Valley, except in Sopore and Kakpora towns, to facilitate the celebrations of Shab-e-Meraj.

People spent the night offering prayers in mosques and no major incident of violence was reported. This encouraged the authorities to extend the relaxation during the day.

Stray incidents of violence occurred at Anantnag and Pulwana towns and Maisuma locality in Srinagar city during the day.

‘Curfew was quickly re-imposed in these places and the situation brought under control,’ a senior police officer said here.

Restrictions were also imposed in Baramulla town in the afternoon although the day started normally there.

Public transport and markets remained closed in Srinagar, but private transport moved normally. People were seen buying essentials items from the shops that were open in the interior areas away from the main roads.

In the afternoon, Mirwaiz Umer Farooq, chairman of the moderate Hurriyat group, led a procession against alleged human rights violations by the security forces. The procession started from the Rajouri Kadal area to the Hazratbal shrine, the focus of the day’s festivities in the city.

Mirwaiz Umer also spoke against the Armed Forces Special Powers Act (AFSPA) and demanded it should be immediately repealed.

The procession started swelling as it passed through the city’s streets enroute to the Hazratbal shrine. The people in the procession shouted pro-freedom and anti-India slogans.

Police and the Central Reserve Police Force (CRPF) intercepted the procession and resorted to baton charge and firing tear smoke shells to disperse the crowd.

Perhaps for the first time in the history of the Hazratbal shrine, just a few thousand devotees offered prayers at the shrine due to the heightened tensions in Srinagar city and elsewhere in the Valley.

Normally tens of thousands of devotees throng the shrine on festivals.

A hair of the Prophet’s beard is housed inside the shrine and is displayed to the devotees five times during the day on Muslim festivals.

Meanwhile in New Delhi, union New and Renewable Energy Minister Farooq Abdullah met Prime Minister Manmohan Singh and Home Minister P. Chidambaram and sought help for his son Omar Abdullah to tide over the crisis in Jammu and Kashmir.

Officials at the Jammu and Kashmir House in New Delhi told IANS that the former chief minister requested assistance so that the younger Abdullah could control the volatile situation.

Farooq Abdullah later left for Srinagar, where Omar Abdullah has called an all-party meeting Monday.

In another development, editors and the management of all the vernacular and English newspapers in Srinagar Saturday decided to suspend their publications against alleged harassment by the authorities.

Editors of local newspapers said they would not resume publications till the government assured them such an attitude would be changed in the future.

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