SRINAGAR: The entire valley was brought to a standstill a day ahead of parliamentary elections in occupied Kashmir by a 50-hour strike call and an undeclared curfew imposed by authorities. Violence erupted in a number of places, leaving over a score of persons injured, even as authorities placed the chairmen of both factions of the Hurriyat Conference and a number of other separatist leaders under house arrest while over sixty activists were taken into custody to foil their poll boycott campaign.
The 50-hour strike call by the Hurriyat (G) chairman,
Schools, government offices, banks and private businesses throughout Kashmir stayed shut, and streets and markets wore a deserted look during the strike that came into force on Tuesday. Violence had broken out in the city soon after the strike began, and continued today as well in a number of places where groups of youth defied heavy police presence to come out and launch stone-pelting attacks.
Thousands of police and paramilitary troopers had been moved into various parts of the city in anticipation of trouble, and roadblocks and obstructions erected on main streets curbed movement between Srinagar areas extensively.
Contingents of the police took over Lal Chowk, the commercial hub of the city, early this morning directing commercial vehicles parked there to move off, and erected barricades on the Radio Kashmir crossing, blocking access to the central and lower Srinagar.
Police and paramilitary men deployed throughout the city created a curfew-like situation with frisking and questioning at frequent checkpoints and curbs on vehicular movement. Street battles broke out in the lower city, Rambagh, Chanpora, and Bandipur where stone-pelting youth clashed with the police amid slogans in favour of azadi and poll boycott.
Groups of masked slogan-shouting youth took to the streets in Kawdara, pelting stones on the police when the latter tried to disperse them, but disappeared after brief skirmishes. A large number of youth came out in Rambagh in support of freedom and boycott, and marched to the Rambagh bridge where they clashed with the police that blocked their way.
The police used lathi-charge to break up the stone-pelting demonstration, and the situation returned to normal. Reports from Bandipur said that violent youth pelted stones on vehicles passing through the main market this morning to enforce a shutdown, leading to total suspension of business activities and vehicular movement in the town. Meanwhile, the authorities placed heavy restrictions on the movements of separatist leaders in a bid to foil their poll boycott campaign.
Syed Ali Shah Geelani, Mirwaiz Umer Farooq, Agha Syed Hassan, Muhammad Yasin Malik, Nayeem Ahmad Khan, Javed Ahmad Mir and Farida Behenji were placed under house arrest, while Dr. Ghulam Muhammad Hubbi, Hakeem Muhammad Altaf, Hakeem Abdul Rasheed and others were taken into custody along with scores of activists.
Senior Hurriyat (M) leaders, Zaffar Akbar Bhat and Yasmeen Raja, were arrested near Pampore, and several raids were conducted on the house of Muhammad Salim Zargar of the Tehreek-e-Mazahamat, but to no avail, as he was not present at home. Reports also speak of a large-scale police drive to round up separatist leaders and activists all over Kashmir.