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Pro-independence rallies mark Ramadan's end in Kashmir

From Mukhtar Ahmad, CNN
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • Tens of thousands converge on city center to demonstrate against Indian rule
  • Protesters throw rocks at security forces and set buildings ablaze
  • The demonstrations began after Eid prayers, marking the end of Ramadan

Srinagar, India (CNN) -- Massive pro-independence rallies rocked the Kashmir capital Srinagar and other towns Saturday at the end of Eid prayers marking the culmination of the Muslim fasting month of Ramadan.

The anti-India protesters also torched government offices, police posts and a police vehicle, and pelted security forces with rocks.

Tens of thousands of people converged at Srinagar's sprawling main prayer ground at Eidgah in the old city before marching to the city center, Lal Chowk, led by the moderate separatist leader Mirwaiz Moulvi Umar Farooq.

The city center was filled with pro-independence demonstrators made up of mostly youths, many of whom wore masks and carried green flags.

Chants of "We want freedom" and "Go India, Go Back," could be heard throughout the rally.

Farooq, wearing a black arm band as a mark of protest against the killing of 70 people in the past three months of unrest in Kashmir, made a brief speech to the rally asking "India and Pakistan to initiate Kashmir centric dialogue involving people of Kashmir to find a solution to the problem."

He appealed to the people to remain peaceful. However, a police spokesman blamed Farooq for "inciting the situation."

Farooq's speech was repeatedly interrupted with chants of "freedom, freedom."

Indian security forces, who had been withdrawn early Saturday morning from various areas of Srinagar to prevent clashes, were redeployed to the city center to restore order after the protesters began to throw rocks and set buildings ablaze.

The security forces fired volleys of warning shots and used tear gas and baton charges to quell the protesters.

Police had to also open fire at Hazartbal to disperse an anti-India mob which set fire to a police barrack and a police vehicle immediately after the prayers ended.

The police spokesman said other major towns also witnessed clashes between protesters and security forces Saturday.

Indian-administered Kashmir has been in the throes of violent protests since June 11.

The protests are part of a so-called "Quit Kashmir" campaign launched by separatist groups against Indian rule in Kashmir.

Muslim-majority Kashmir is claimed by both India and Pakistan. India deployed thousands of troops in Kashmir to guard against what Indian leaders believe was a Pakistan-backed insurgency that began in the late 1980s.

That insurgency, which India says claimed more than 43,000 lives, is no longer raging but the troops have remained.