By Sarwar Kashani
Srinagar: A senior Jammu and Kashmir cabinet minister narrowly escaped on Saturday when his cavalcade was attacked with stones as more violence erupted in the valley, coinciding with the globally banned Lashkar-e-Taiba (LeT) militant outfit throwing its weight behind secessionist leaders and asking people to follow their shutdown programme in “letter and spirit”.
Education Minister Naeem Akhtar, also the government spokesperson, was attacked in a north Kashmir village when he was returning from Bandipore district to assess the law and order situation and taking stock of hospital management, official sources said.
Protesters hurled stones at Akhtar’s cavalcade as they had blocked the road with tree trunks and large stones to enforce the separatist shutdown. The sources said that emergency police reinforcements were rushed to rescue the minister from the protesters. None was hurt in the incident.
But at least a dozen civilians were injured in other violent protests across the Kashmir Valley where life remained at a standstill for the 22nd day of curfew and separatist-called shutdown.
Witnesses and police sources said three persons, including a woman, were injured when security forces opened fire to disperse an unruly mob of protesters in south Kashmir district of Shopian.
Similar protests erupted in Anantnag, also in the south, and Budgam in central Kashmir where police and paramilitary troopers used tear gas and pellet guns to control stone-throwing protesters. Some 10 civilians were injured in these protests, the sources said.
Curfew continued in some parts of Srinagar and south Kashmir but was relaxed in other areas of the valley – on the boil since the July 8 killing of Hizbul Mujahideen commander Burhan Wani. Slogan-shouting people took to streets at some places in Downtown and uptown of Srinagar but no violent clashes were reported by police.
Curfew was also on in Pulwama and Kulgam districts of south Kashmir – the worst hit region in the current unrest in which some 50 people have been killed in clashes between security forces and protesters.
Normal life remained paralyzed due to the curfew and the shutdown called by separatist leaders. People came out in the morning to buy essentials but remained restricted to their homes after police and paramilitary troopers were deployed to thwart protests.
Separatist leaders extended the shutdown until August 5. They have called for a protest march to Hazratbal shrine in Srinagar where they will offer Friday congregational prayers and address a public rally to pay homage to those killed in the current unrest.
In a statement to Srinagar-based newspapers, the LeT, based in Pakistan and blamed for the 2008 Mumbai attack, said that it “respects the aspirations of Kashmiri people for their independence from India”.
“Make the hartal (shutdown) calls successful and follow the programmes issued by joint resistance leadership religiously,” the statement said, referring to Hurriyat leaders Syed Ali Shah Geelani and Mirwaiz Umar Farooq and Jammu and Kashmir Liberation Front (JKLF) head Yasin Malik.
The statement quoted LeT’s Kashmir chief commander as praising doctors who have “played a vital role in this hour of grief”.
Meanwhile, the army claimed to have foiled an infiltration bid on the Line of Control – the de facto border that divides Jammu and Kashmir between India and Pakistan.
Two soldiers and two militants were killed in the Nowgam sector, a defence source told IANS.
“Army troops challenged a group of intruding terrorists earlier in the day (on Saturday). The heavily armed terrorists opened fire at the soldiers,” the source said.