Omar caught between rock and hard place after Ramban killings

Srinagar, July 20 (IANS) Mainstream and separatist leaders have termed it the "Gool bloodbath" as heightened tensions followed Thursday's killings of four protesters and injuries to 43 others in Ramban district, severely jolting peace, tourism and the ongoing Amarnath Yatra in Jammu and Kashmir.

Over 300 protesters stormed a Border Security Force (BSF) camp in Gool village on Thursday to protest the alleged desecration of a mosque and religious scriptures. Guards at the camp are accused of opening indiscriminate fire at the protesters, killing four people and injuring 43.

Of the injured, at least seven, according to attending doctors, sustained bullet injuries.

A shocked state administration rushed helicopters to evacuate 17 critically injured people for specialized treatment.

Kashmir Chief Minister Omar Abdullah rushed his junior home minister, Sajad Kitchloo, and the state Director General of Police, Ashok Prasad, to Ramban to supervise the evacuation of the injured and express solidarity with the bereaved families.

The district magistrate of Ramban was shifted immediately after the incident. Union Home Minister Sushilkumar Shinde regretted the loss of life and ordered the special DG of the BSF to conduct a probe into the incident.

Inspector General of BSF (Jammu Frontier) Rajeev Krishna said the guards at the camp had opened fire to save arms and ammunition from being looted by the mob.

The explanation was dismissed both by the locals and the state government.

In its damage control exercise, the state cabinet condemned the "use of excessive force by the BSF personnel" and sanctioned an ex-gratia relief of Rs.5 lakhs for the next of kin of the slain persons.

A government job was also promised by the state cabinet to one member of each of the bereaved families.

Relatives and villagers refused to bury the four dead persons unless the government brought those involved in the firing incident to justice.

The BSF camp was overnight removed from Gool village and a contingent of the state armed police was deployed instead.

Tension along the over 300-km strategic Jammu-Srinagar highway, the Valley's only land connection with the rest of the country, forced the authorities to close it for the third day running Saturday.

An uninterrupted curfew across the Valley has thrown both the ongoing annual Amarnath Yatra and the tourist season out of gear in Kashmir.

In its knee-jerk response to the separatist call for a three-day protest shutdown, the authorities clamped curfew in the Valley that is likely to continue till the separatists end their protest call.

Dozens of security personnel and protesters have been injured during the last three days as mobs defying the curfew continue to pelt stones at the security forces in Srinagar and many other places.

The authorities have given strict instructions to both the local police and the Central Reserve Police Force (CRPF) personnel deployed on law and order duties to exercise maximum restraint to ensure that no civilian casualty occurs during the protests.

For Omar Abdullah, the going could simply not have been tougher. His repeated statements that excesses against civilians during protests would not be tolerated hold little water in the eyes of the common Kashmiris.

Abdullah's political detractors are using the chief minister's discomfort to the hilt as life remains paralyzed in the Valley.

(Sheikh Qayoom can be contacted at sheikh.abdul@ians.in)

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