Top separatist arrested in Indian Kashmir as toll hits 68

Mirwaiz Umar Farooq, chief cleric and head of All Parties Hurriyat (Freedom) Conference, a political coalition opposed to the Indian rule of Kashmir, was arrested near Srinagar on Friday.

Police in Indian-administered Kashmir have arrested a top separatist leader, his aide said August 27, as the region's chief minister met Prime Minister Narendra Modi and defended a 50-day lockdown on the region. AFP / SAJJAD HUSSAIN
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SRINAGAR, INDIA // Police in Indian-administered Kashmir have arrested a top separatist leader as the region’s chief minister met prime minister Narendra Modi and defended a 50-day lockdown on the region.

Mirwaiz Umar Farooq, chief cleric and head of All Parties Hurriyat (Freedom) Conference, a political coalition opposed to the Indian rule of Kashmir, was arrested near Srinagar on Friday, said his aide, Tariq Buch.

“He was first detained by police while trying to leave home to lead a peaceful demonstration. We came to know later he was taken away to Cheshma Shahi [a high security zone in Srinagar].”

The arrest came as the number of civilians killed in the last month hit 68. The deaths rose after protests erupted in Kashmir following the shooting of a popular militant leader.

Kashmir Chief Minister Mehbooba Mufti justified the continuation of the sweeping curfew that has seen schools, shops and most banks shut, after meeting the prime minister in New Delhi on Saturday.

“The basic purpose of the curfew was to save the lives of youngsters ... If we don’t impose a curfew what do we do?” she asked.

She also said the government was willing to hold talks with anyone who wanted a peaceful resolution to the Kashmir problem through dialogue, but pointed the finger at Pakistan.

“I want to tell Pakistan, if it has any sympathy for Kashmiris, it shouldn’t provoke youngsters to attack police stations — and save youths from being killed,” said the minister.

Police shot dead one protester on Friday, while the body of another was found in a river a day after he was chased by police during an anti-India demonstration.

A police constable was shot dead by unknown gunmen as he stepped out of his home in the southern area of Pulwama on Saturday.

“We have reports that there were militants in the area,” said police superintendent Rayees Bhat.

The killing of young rebel leader Burhan Wani in a firefight with government forces on July 8 sparked wide-scale protests across large parts of the disputed territory.

Thousands of angry demonstrators have defied a sweeping curfew to clash with government forces almost every day.

Kashmir has been divided between rivals India and Pakistan since both countries gained their independence from British rule in 1947. Both claim the territory in full.

Wani’s Hizbul Mujahideen and several other rebel groups have fought for decades against some 500,000 Indian troops deployed in Kashmir, demanding independence for the region or a merger with Pakistan.

Human rights groups say 70,000 people, mostly civilians, have died in the fighting and thousands disappeared after they were taken away by security forces since 1989 when an armed rebellion against Indian rule began.

* Agence France-Presse