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Kashmiris want freedom not election selection

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“No election, no selection, we want freedom,” the protesters shouted.

At least 15 people were wounded on Monday when police opened fire during a one-day strike in Indian Kashmir, held in protest against the killing of Muslims during independence rallies and plans to hold elections.

India’s Election Commission held a meeting with political parties to decide on poll dates for Kashmir, where insurgent fighting for the Himalayan region’s secession from India have traditionally boycotted polls.

“An election is no solution to the Kashmir dispute,” senior Kashmiri leader Syed Ali Shah Geelani said. “There shall be a general shutdown on Monday against the election meeting.”

Police fired bullets, teargas shells and used batons to disperse hundreds of stone-throwing demonstrators protesting against Indian rule in Srinagar, witnesses said.

“No election, no selection, we want freedom,” the protesters shouted. Kashmiri leaders condemned the shooting by police in Srinagar, Kashmir’s summer capital.

“New Delhi is pushing Kashmiris to the wall and wants to convert the ongoing peaceful agitation into a violent resistance movement so as to dub it as a terrorist movement,” Mirwaiz Umar Farooq, chairman of the main separatist alliance All Parties Hurriyat (Freedom) Conference, told a news conference.

Streets in the Himalayan region had earlier been quiet before violence broke out, with shops, businesses and schools closed.

Muslim-majority Kashmir and Hindu-majority Jammu, along with the Ladakh region, form the state of Jammu and Kashmir, which came under New Delhi’s direct rule in July after the state government fell over a land dispute.

The controversy became the trigger for some of Kashmir’s biggest anti-India protests since a revolt against New Delhi’s rule began in 1989, killing tens of thousands of people.

At least 36 protesters have been killed by government forces in the Muslim-majority Kashmir Valley since last month. About 1,000 people were injured.

“The one-day strike is also to protest against the killing of peaceful protesters by Indian troops,” Geelani said.

The protests were sparked by a government decision to grant land to build shelters for Hindu pilgrims travelling to Kashmir for an annual pilgrimage.

Muslims were enraged, forcing the government to backtrack. Hindus protested in turn, blocking the highway to the Kashmir Valley. They relented after the state government offered to allow temporary shelters to be built during the annual pilgrimage.

Muslim Kashmiris have rejected the deal.

Reuters , printed on 09.09.2008.