SRINAGAR: Fire gutted one of the most revered Sufi Muslim shrines in the Indian administered part of the divided Kashmir region on Monday, sparking clashes between police and angry protesters, witnesses said.
Protesting residents were angered over what they said was a slow response by firefighters.
At least six people were hurt in the main city of Srinagar when police fired teargas at stone-throwing protesters.
The cause of the fire at the 350-year-old shrine which housed a relic of Sheikh Abdul Qadir Jeelani, an 11th century Sufi saint, was not immediately known.
The blaze started from the roof of the shrine shortly after morning prayers and quickly engulfed the wooden structure, a police official said.
“After morning prayers, fire started from the roof top of the shrine. We’re still trying to determine the cause,” said Farooq Ahmad, another police official at the scene. “The holy relic of the Sufi saint is safe and has been retrieved.”
Scores of firefighters tried to douse the flames, but protesters threw stones at them, saying their response was slow. Thousands of people later crowded nearby streets, chanting anti-India slogans and demanding Kashmir’s freedom from Indian rule.
Police sealed off roads leading to the shrine where hundreds of men and women had gathered, many of them wailing and crying.
“I feel like I’ve lost everything,” cried a 45-year-old woman, Shameema Akhtar, tears rolling down her cheeks.
Clashes also erupted in at least four other neighborhoods in Srinagar, with protesters throwing stones at police and officers responding by firing bullets into the air and using tear gas, the officer said.
Rioters also torched a fire engine and threw stones at firefighters and some members of the media.
There were no immediate reports of casualties. Shops and businesses stayed closed.