Strike, curfew shut Kashmir as India leader visits

AP News
Posted: Jul 04, 2014 6:06 AM
Strike, curfew shut Kashmir as India leader visits

SRINAGAR, India (AP) — India's newly elected leader made his first official trip on Friday to Indian-controlled Kashmir, where separatist groups called a strike that shut shops, businesses and schools.

Prime Minister Narendra Modi inaugurated a railway line and planned to review security and development in the Himalayan region divided between India and Pakistan.

Kashmir is India's only Muslim-majority state and Modi — whose Hindu nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party won a landslide election victory — has long had an uneasy relationship with Muslims. He was the chief minister of western Gujarat state in 2002 when communal riots there killed more than 1,000 people, most of them Muslims.

Police said a curfew was declared in the old quarters of Srinagar, the main city in Indian-held Kashmir, and residents had been asked to stay indoors. The restrictions were imposed to prevent any violent protests by separatist groups who oppose Indian rule.

Most top separatist leaders were either put under house arrest or detained at police stations, police said. Kashmiri leaders are often detained or barred from leaving their homes during public protests.

Authorities did not allow worshippers to pray at Jamia Masjid, the main mosque in Srinagar, on the first Friday of Ramadan, the Muslim month of fasting. However, Friday prayers were offered in small mosques.

Police and paramilitary soldiers patrolled the mostly deserted streets and set up additional checkpoints in the already heavily guarded city.

No violence was immediately reported.

Strikes are a common separatist tactic in the region to highlight demands and embarrass the government.

Modi first traveled to Katra, a town 275 kilometers (170 miles) south of Srinagar, and inaugurated a railway line linking a popular Hindu shrine with India's vast railway network.

"This facility is not just meant for the people of the state but for the millions of Indians who want to travel" to the shrine, Modi said after flagging off the first train.

"My aim is to win the hearts of the people of the state," he said.

Kashmiri separatists have been distrustful of all top Indian government officials, regardless of their party, calling Kashmir a territory under India's occupation.

Top separatist leader Mirwaiz Umar Farooq said he hoped Modi would "understand the ardent political message we seek to convey" through the strike.

"The newly elected government must not repeat the mistake of relying on militaristic approaches and should stop believing that time alone will resolve the Kashmir issue," he said.

Kashmiri separatists demand either independence from Hindu-majority India or a merger with Muslim-majority Pakistan. About 68,000 people have been killed since 1989 in an armed uprising and Indian military crackdown. While the armed rebellion has largely been suppressed, anti-India resentment still runs deep and is mainly expressed through street protests.