Protests, Firing at Qazigund: 3 including 2 women killed
SRINAGAR: The separatist leadership has extended the strike call in Kashmir Valley till Thursday with two more civilian protesters, including a woman, killed in fresh firing yesterday by security forces.
Three days of relative calm were shattered Monday evening when security forces fired at a group of pro-freedom and anti-India demonstrators in Qazigund, the gateway to the Valley, sparking clashes which forced the administration to halt the ongoing Amarnath yatra.
Witnesses said the incident took place when a patrol of army’s 9 Rashtriya Rifles fired, allegedly without provocation, at protesters in Churat village of Qazigund yesterday evening, killing two civilian on the spot and injuring seven others.
According to police, the deceased have been identified as Showkat Ahmad Itoo, 25, and Saida Begum, 42, both residents of Churat village. Doctors treating the wounded said they have suffered injuries in abdomen, chest and legs.
A statement issued by J&K Police after the firing incident said: "The overall situation throughout Kashmir valley remained calm. There was no report of any untoward incident from any part of the valley."
Another woman, Neelofer Jaan, of Chowgam in Qazigund, who was injured in the firing, succumbed at a hospital, taking the death toll of civilians in the ongoing unrest to 45. Her eight-year-old son is also reported to have suffered injuries.
Restrictions continue to remain in place today with groups of young boys blocking roads at over nearly 300 places across ten districts of the restive Valley where commuters are being turned away.
Police is staying away from confrontation with the boys to prevent further clashes, a senior police officer said.
"Markets have started opening in the interiors of the Srinagar city as well as other violence-affected districts of the Valley, which is a good sign. But there is tension in the air which will take some time to defuse," the officer said.
Meanwhile, in a joint statement yesterday, veteran Hurriyat leader, Syed Ali Geelani, moderate Hurriyat chairman, Mirwaiz Umar Farooq and JKLF chief Yasin Malik, extended the strike call for the restive Valley till Thursday afternoon.
"In case of severe restrictions, people should continue to stage protest in a peaceful manner," the statement said.
The powerful trio also appealed people across the Valley to play 'freedom songs' over the loudspeakers in the evening and continue to support the protest program of the Hurriyat.
In Srinagar, the chief minister Mehbooba Mufti chaired a meeting with top officers of health, education and other departments to review the ongoing situation which has overwhelmed the tertiary care hospitals in the city.
"At this point, we are providing the best treatment to civilians injured in the protesters. In case there is a need of specialised treatment, the government will shift such patients outside the state or even the country, if required," the chief minister said.
An official spokesperson said the chief minister has also convened an All Party Meeting in Srinagar on July 21 "to discuss the prevailing law and order situation in Kashmir".
Schools in the Valley, which were scheduled to open today after summer vacations, remained closed after the authorities extended the holiday till July 25. The chief minister also told the officers to explore the options of opening schools at places which have seen relative calm.
Kashmir has been reeling under curfew-like restrictions on the eleventh day after the killing of Burhan Wani with a legislator from Pulwama, the home district of the Hizb commander, facing wrath of public Sunday night in his home constituency.
Newspapers didn't hit the stands on the fourth day today with the ban on cellular phone networks likely to remain in place for another two days. The chief minister has washed off her hands from the ban on newspapers and, in a damage control move, transferred the SSP Budgam, Fayaz Ahmad Lone, in whose district most printing presses, which were raided last week, are located.
Political advisor to Mehbooba, Amitabh Mattoo, also sought to douse the flames, saying that the decision to impose a ban was “miscommunication”.
Talking to NDTV, Mattoo said: “There is no ban on newspapers .... there was some miscommunication. Papers can publish. In the age of globalisation, there is no question of imposing a ban. The Chief Minister herself believes in freedom of expression, even if it is against the establishment.”