Separatist strike shuts much of Indian-run Kashmir

By Aijaz Hussain Associated Press / February 11, 2011

SRINAGAR, India—Shops and businesses shut and road traffic was thin Friday across the Indian portion of Kashmir in response to a strike call by separatist groups to honor a pro-independence leader executed by India more than 25 years ago.

Police and paramilitary soldiers set up road checkpoints and banned assembly of more than four people to prevent protests in the Himalayan region, said a police officer on condition of anonymity as he was not authorized to speak to reporters.

Thousands of armed troops patrolled streets in Srinagar, the main city in Indian Kashmir, and other towns, while most public transport also stayed off the roads and the attendance was sparse in government offices.

Separatist rebels have been fighting since 1989 for the region’s independence from India or merger with Pakistan. More than 68,000 people, mostly civilians, have been killed in the uprising and subsequent Indian crackdown.

Kashmir is divided between India and Pakistan but claimed by both in its entirety. The nuclear archrivals have fought two wars over the disputed territory since they gained independence from Britain in 1947.

Friday’s strike was called by separatists to honor Mohammad Maqbool Butt, the founder of the separatist Jammu-Kashmir Liberation Front. Butt was hanged in New Delhi’s Tihar prison after a court found him guilty of killing an Indian intelligence officer and conspiring to kill an Indian diplomat, in Britain.

Butt’s family as well as separatist leaders have asked Indian authorities to hand over his remains for burial in the Himalayan region. The government has so far rejected the demand.

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