SRINAGAR: A strike called by separatists in revolt-hit Indian-administered Kashmir to protest against the killing of a leading Muslim cleric paralysed much of the region on Saturday.
Pakistan-based rebels fighting Indian rule blamed the killing of Moulvi Shoukat Ahmad Shah on “Indian agencies” seeking to “sabotage the freedom struggle of Kashmiris.” No militant group has claimed responsibility for the explosion which killed Shah, a respected cleric and a staunch pro-independence supporter, at a mosque in Srinagar minutes before the start of Friday prayers.
Most shops, businesses, schools and offices in Srinagar and other major towns in the Muslim-majority Kashmir valley were closed by the strike.
Shah's death sparked condemnation from separatist and pro-India politicians alike. Kashmir's chief minister, Omar Abdullah, joined throngs of people visiting the bereaved family.
“The killing of a veteran religious scholar is a great loss to the society and those responsible for the crime have exhibited their inhuman behaviour,” he said.
Separatists described the killing as an “attack on the Kashmiri freedom movement”.
“It's nothing but a conspiracy to deprive us of our religious and political leaders,” said leading cleric Mirwaiz Umar Farooq.
Yaseen Malik, head of the pro-independence Jammu and Kashmir Liberation Front and Shah's close friend, mourned his loss.
“The killing has broken our back. We will expose those responsible,” he said.
Shah was in favour of independence for Kashmir, unlike many armed rebels who are seeking the territory's union with Pakistan.
Thousands of mourners accompanied the funeral procession of Shah who was buried at “Martyrs' Graveyard” on Friday.
Security forces were deployed in strength as a “precautionary measure” to maintain law and order but no incidents were reported, police said.
Last summer, Kashmir was rocked by street protests against Indian rule that left 114 people dead -- most of them shot by security forces.
The Himalayan region is divided between nuclear-armed India and Pakistan but claimed in full by both. It has triggered two of the three wars fought by the neighbours since independence in 1947.
According to an official count, 47,000 people have died in Kashmir in more than two decades of rebellion against New Delhi's rule. – AFP