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Omar meets PM, Sonia as Kashmir close to normalcy

New Delhi/Srinagar, July 17 (Calcutta Tube) After days of unrest, separatist shutdowns and curfew, near normalcy prevailed in parts of Kashmir Valley Saturday as Chief Minister Omar Abdullah held talks with the central government on ways to bring peace in the troubled state.

Schools, shops and offices reopened in the valley after remaining shut for 11 days. This was after separatists asked people to resume ‘normal’ life for a day.

Markets were flooded with frenzied shoppers who were apparently trying to stockpile supplies ahead of another shutdown Sunday and more protests in the coming days.

Hundreds of vehicles, both public and private, were seen on the roads, bringing life back to the city roads. Children in school uniforms seemed the happiest to return to classrooms after being homebound for nearly two weeks.

‘It is a great experience. I shall be meeting my friends in school for the first time after 12 days,’ said 14-year-old Madeeha, a student of Presentation Convent School.

A police officer told IANS that there were no restrictions anywhere in the valley.

The state was brought to its knees due to violent protests since June 11 when security forces allegedly killed a 17-year-old teenager, Tufail Mattoo.

At least 13 people – mostly youngsters – were killed in firing by security forces to dispel protestors since June 11.

As violence spiralled, the 39-year-old chief minister ordered strict enforcement of curfew and called in the Indian Army to help in maintaining law and order.

Criticised by opposition mainstream parties and separatists alike for not having contained the crisis in time, Abdullah Saturday met Prime Minister Manmohan Singh, union Home Minister P. Chidambaram and Congress president Sonia Gandhi in Delhi to update them about the latest in the valley.

Sources said the prime minister assured Abdullah of his ‘full backing’ and all support to overcome the crisis.

He met Chidambaram for a brief but crucial meeting at his residence in New Delhi.

Abdullah said he had an extensive discussion with the home minister on ‘our assessment of the situation in the state now, where we are today and the way forward’.

The two leaders also discussed how to equip the state police and paramilitary troopers with ‘non-lethal weapons’ to control unarmed stone-pelters.

‘We discussed the requirements in terms of non-lethal equipments for the state police force and paramilitary forces to control large crowds. However, the primary aim (of the meeting) was to discuss our plan of action in the days and weeks to come to deal with the present situation,’ he said.

This was his first face-to-face meeting with Chidambaram since the crisis erupted in the Valley.

Asked about the deployment of the army to contain the crisis, Abdullah said: ‘The army is a part of the state counter-insurgency grid and also a part of necessary deployment along the Line of Control (LoC) and the International Border. There is no other role for the army in Kashmir.’

He said ‘the cycle of deaths’ has ended now. ‘We have been able to control the situation. There have been no casualties in the last week and even though people are coming out on the roads, the size and intensity of the protests have decreased.’

Congress chief Sonia Gandhi, sources said, also assured him of support of the party which is an ally of the ruling National Conference in the state.

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