Valley shuts over meadow issue

Srinagar: A shutdown was observed across the Kashmir Valley on Saturday in response to the call by Hurriyat Conference (M) against possible extension of lease of the Army firing range at Tosmaidan meadow in central Budgam district.
Authorities imposed restrictions in downtown Srinagar fearing protests in response to the Hurriyat call. Wearing riot gear and carrying automatic rifles, CRPF troopers and policemen restrained people from venturing out of their houses. The forces had blocked most of the roads leading to downtown with barricades and spools of razor wire. At sensitive places, armoured vehicles were used to restrict the movement of civilians, according to eyewitnesses.
Hurriyat (M) Mirwaiz Umar Farooq had called for a shutdown against the proposed extension of Tosmaidan land lease to the Army.  “Tosmaidan is not only a political issue, but humanitarian, environmental and economic issue as well. The proposed extension of the lease to the Army is a move to consolidate the military occupation in the state. If we will remain silent this time the same will happen at other places as well. So I appeal the people to raise voice against the lease extension and observe complete shutdown on April 12 against it,” Mirwaiz had said. The High Court Bar Association had also extended support to the strike call and demanded demilitarization of entire Jammu and Kashmir.
Reports said all shops, government offices, petrol pumps and financial institutions were closed while skeletal transport was plying on the otherwise busy roads and highways of Srinagar and other major towns of the Valley. The shutdown also witnessed heavy deployment of paramilitary CRPF and cops in many parts of this capital city.
Meanwhile, two policemen were injured in pitched battles with protesters in Sopore town of north Kashmir’s Baramulla district.
Reports said groups of youth converged at Main Chowk, Sopore and clashed with the forces who were deployed in huge numbers to scuttle protests. Angry protesters pelted rocks and bricks on the forces triggering off clashes. In the ding-dong battles, at least two cops , suffered minor injuries.
Amidst a complete shutdown, violent clashes were also reported from Baramulla town.
Eyewitnesses told Kashmir Reader that early Saturday morning a contingent of CRPF men and cops appeared in the old town and sealed all the five bridges—Cement Bridge, Azad Gunj Bridge, and Khanpora Bridge, Gulnar Park Bridge and SRTC Foot Bridge—to prevent people from holding anti-India protests.
The forces laid spools of concertina wires on all the bridges cutting off the volatile old town with rest of the district.
The curbs, however, angered the old town residents, especially the youth, who came out their houses and staged pro-freedom demonstrations. Chanting slogans, angry protesters hurled rocks and stones on the forces at Khanpora and Cement Bridge.
“The forces burst teargas canisters to disperse the stone pelting boys. However, they regrouped and continued hurling stones at the cops and CRPF men. The clashes continued intermittently. However, no one was hurt,” Javed Ahmad, an eyewitness, said.
The volatile Palhalan town of the district was also sealed by the forces amid apprehensions of protests. Alert troopers and cops maintained highest vigil along the Srinagar-Muzaffarabad highway near Palhalan restricting the movement of locals. Late evening clashes broke out when forces were returning to their camps. A youth identified as Sajad Ahmad Malik was injured in forces action, eyewitnesses said.
Reports of a complete shutdown in response to the Hurriyat call have also been received from the neighbouring Kupwara and Bandipora districts.
In Gulshan Chowk of Bandipora, forces lobbed several tear smoke shells after they failed to disperse youth, who were protesting against the proposed land lease.
Minor clashes were also reported from Kulgam and Shopian towns of south Kashmir, where a complete shutdown was observed.—With inputs from Mushtaq Ahmad in Baramulla