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Pro-freedom wave sweeps Srinagar
Published on 19 Aug. 2008 1:10 AM IST
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Tens of thousands of people supporting the cause of a free Kashmir congregated here from all over the valley Monday and marched towards the UN office shouting pro-Pakistan and pro-Islam slogans while security forces, asked to exercise maximum restraint, watched on. The march to United Military Observers' Group (UNMOG) office in uptown Srinagar was sponsored by the separatist Hurriyat Conference to seek UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon's intervention to resolve the long standing issue of the future of the Kashmir valley. Leader of the hardline faction of the Hurriyat Syed Ali Shah Geelani said: "Our memorandum seeks UN intervention for the permanent resolution of Kashmir issue in the wake of the economic blockade imposed on the valley." Police said they had been asked by the administration to allow separatist leaders in small groups to go to the UN office. Former militant and senior Hurriyat leaders Javed Ahmed Mir and Zaffar Akbar Bhat were the first to reach the UN office in the morning and present a memorandum seeking independence of Kashmir from India and revocation of "draconian laws" giving special powers to armed forces in Kashmir. Mirwaiz Umar Farooq, chief of the moderate faction of the Hurriyat Conference, who has a strong support base in downtown Srinagar was also leading a march of thousands. Sitting atop a mini truck, covered with banners reading pro-freedom slogans, the Mirwaiz flashed a victory sign amid roars of thousands shouting "We Want Freedom!" A large number of police and paramilitary troopers was in place in the uptown areas of Srinagar behind barricades and razor-fitted concertina wires to prevent crowds from going beyond the Tourist Reception Centre, about 200 metres from the UN office. All the entry points to the UN office were blocked and manned by hundreds of security forces. The movement gathered support from all over. In the old Srinagar area, people collected in groups according to the area they belonged to. A senior district police officer in the southern district of Kulgam told IANS that 1,500 people had gone to Srinagar. "Another group of around 1,000 people is also leaving," said the police officer. "We have made elaborate security arrangements to disallow large gathering around the UNMO Group in Srinagar."According to sources, authorities were in two minds till late Sunday on whether to impose a curfew to bar Hurriyat supporters from gathering at a place dotted by "very sensitive offices and installations which could become the targets of miscreants if the rally was allowed". However, the government later decided to allow the Hurriyat leaders to present memorandums from each constituent group of the separatist conglomerate, while requesting them to keep the crowds small, worried that a large group could lead to fresh clashes with security forces. The government has instructed security personnel to use maximum restraint and minimise use of force in case the gathering turns rowdy. The authorities have also instructed the police not to use bullets to disperse crowds.

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