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Wednesday, July 2, 2008
International

Kashmir govt revokes decision to hand over land to Hindus

Indian Kashmir formally revoked yesterday a decision to hand over land to Hindu pilgrims after days of violent protests that left four dead and nearly 350 injured in the Muslim region.

The decision was taken by the state cabinet, which met in Srinagar, summer capital of the scenic Himalayan state where a bloody revolt has raged against Indian rule for nearly two decades.

The government order "is hereby cancelled," an official statement said.

The statement said the state government had taken charge of logistics for a major annual Hindu pilgrimage to a mountain grotto, scrapping a move to allocate land to a religious trust so it could build accommodation.

That decision provoked the riots in and around Srinagar.

Revocation of the order came as top separatists were placed under house arrest by police in a bid to avert more protests and a strike shut shops, schools, banks and post offices for a ninth day here.

The entire separatist political leadership was under house arrest, except for hardliner Syed Ali Geelani who managed to evade police, police officer Pervez Ahmed said.

Among those detained were the region's leading cleric Umar Farooq, Shabir Shah, known as Kashmir's Nelson Mandela for the years he has spent in Indian jails and Yasin Malik.

The protests had continued despite a weekend promise by Chief Minister Ghulam Nabi Azad that his cabinet would scrap the plan to allow a Hindu trust to build accommodation for visitors to a Hindu shrine.

Residents said police and paramilitary officers were enforcing an "undeclared" curfew in most parts of Srinagar.

"We're not being allowed to come out of our homes. They say a curfew is in force," resident Mushtaq Ahmed told AFP by telephone. But police denied issuing curfew orders.

The government's move last month to provide land to the Hindu trust, the Shri Amarnathji Shrine Board, prompted huge protests and violent clashes across the Kashmir valley.

The protests have evoked memories of the widespread anti-India protests that swept the region after a separatist insurgency broke out in 1989.

Separatists charge the land transfer was a ploy to settle Indian Hindus in Kashmir. But officials dismiss the allegations, saying New Delhi has never tried to encourage Hindu migration to the Himalayan region.

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