For the fourth consecutive day, Srinagar and other parts of the Kashmir Valley reeled under curfew, even as Muslims all over the world celebrated Shab-e-Meraj, one of the holiest days in the Islamic calendar. Scores of people were injured in clashes at several places, including Hazratbal where the shrine was locked after brief clashes on Friday.
Police have arrested one of the alleged culprits who talked over telephone to fuel protests
Friday prayers could not be offered in many mosques, particularly the central Jamia Masjid here. However, curfew was relaxed in the Valley by late evening in view of the holy day.
At least two persons were injured during the relaxation when police opened fire on protesters in Srinagar downtown. In Baramulla, a youth was injured as police opened fire to quell a demonstration.
In many other areas in the Valley too, the situation continued to be tense, with people staging protests at every opportunity. Since the killing of four persons in police firing on Tuesday, Srinagar has been under curfew.
Police allowed a group of locals to offer prayers at the Hazratbal shrine, which houses the holy relic of Prophet Muhammad, but before the prayers began youth started shouting slogans and threw stones at police. Several policemen, including an inspector, were roughed up. This led to a brief clash, which forced the police to lock the shrine and re-impose curfew.
Hurriyat (Moderate) chairman Mirwaiz Umar Farooq has taken strong exception to not allowing the people to offer Friday prayers at the Jamia Masjid and Hazratbal.
"This is a direct interference in our religious affairs and won't be tolerated,” a Hurriyat spokesman said in a statement. He expressed resentment over authorities preventing the Mirwaiz from discharging his religious duties. “He continues to be under house arrest,” the spokesman said.
People defied curfew and took to the streets at Samboora Pampore, Qazigund, Kokernag, Kakapora and Baramulla. Several people were injured in clashes as police used tear smoke shells and canes to disperse the mobs. Kupwara and Handwara in the north, Kakpora and Pulwama in south and Gandherbal in the east were placed under fresh curfew.
Following the leads from an intercepted telephone conversation played on major TV channels on Thursday, a police party tracked Shabir Ahmad Wani from HMT Narbal in Budgam district on the outskirts of Srinagar and arrested him. He had allegedly conversed with Ghulam Ahmad Dar of Nasrullahpora (Budgam), a key functionary of the Hurriyat Conference (Geelani), to aggravate protests and get people killed. Dar was not arrested yet.
Police also arrested Merajuddin Bhat of Bonpora Batmaloo in Srinagar who, they say, is part of the same ring.
The Jammu and Kashmir government on Saturday denied that the Hazratbal Shrine was locked, as reported in this article. "It is clarified that all the prayers including Friday prayers, Asr, Magrib, Isha and night long Shab-Khawani on the eve of Meiraj-ul-Alam were held at Hazratbal Shrine in which a large number of people from various places of the valley participated" an official spokesman said.
The error is regretted.