Srinagar, Aug 22: At least a million people today prayed for freedom of Kashmir in the historic Eidgah ground here, affirming their support to the united pro-freedom leadership.
It seemed that all roads of the Valley were leading to Eidgah, with thousands of vehicles including trucks, buses, mini-buses, sumos, cars and motorcycles ferrying people, who were holding black and green flags, from different parts of the Valley.
The Eidgah chalo call was given by Coordination Committee led by two factions of Hurriyat Conference besides various pro-freedom parties, social, religious and trade organizations.
This show of strength by the pro-freedom leaders came after the march to Muzaffarabad on August 11, Pampore on August 16 and the rally outside the United Nations office here on August 18.
Senior leaders- Syed Ali Shah Geelani, Mirwaiz Umar Farooq and Muhammad Yasin Malik- couldn't address the people due to the breakdown of public address system.
However, speaking loudly from the podium, Mirwaiz Umar appealed the people to observe complete strike on Saturday and Sunday, followed by Lal Chowk chalo march on Monday.
"People of Kashmir have given their verdict that they want freedom. They have spoken what they stand for. People have only one voice and one dream, which is complete Azadi," Mirwaiz said, amid massive sloganeering by the people.
"Today's show has shown that nation is united. This unprecedented show of unity would lead us to our destination. Leadership is united and so are the people. Today, we have not assembled here under the banner of any sect, political party or region, but under the banner of La Illaha Ilallah Muhammad Rasool Allah (SAW)," he added.
He appealed the people to show the same unity in future also. "Be united and don't give those people any space in your ranks who want to create confusion," he appealed.
Talking to Greater Kashmir, Geelani termed today's gathering as biggest in the history of Kashmir. "This was the biggest gathering in the history of Kashmir and it conveys that people want complete freedom. The writing on the wall is clear for India that people of Kashmir want Azadi. It was a referendum."
"If India claims to be largest democracy of the world, it should open its eyes, withdraw its troops from Kashmir and give Kashmiris right to self-determination," he said.
Geelani alleged that state's role in Jammu and Kashmir is discriminatory. "In Jammu, police shows restraint. But here they kill. Administration has been communalized," he alleged.
The veteran pro-freedom leader congratulated the people of Kashmir for their steadfastness. He appealed UN Secretary General, Ban Ki Moon, to intervene in the state immediately. "Especially, we appeal to UN to intervene in Jammu where Muslims are being targeted by the Hindu fanatics."
He appealed the people to maintain discipline during the rallies. "People should maintain utmost discipline during the rallies and especially near the podium," he said.
Both Geelani and Mirwaiz said that future programme would be announced on Monday at Lal Chowk 'where a peaceful sit-in would be held.'
This was for the first time in the history of Kashmir that lakhs of people joined the Friday congregation at Eidgah, where only Eid prayers were being held in the past.
Before offering Friday prayers, the pro-freedom leaders visited the grave of Shiekh Abdul Aziz who was killed in police firing on August 11 at Chahal (Uri) while leading a march towards Muzaffarabad.
JKLF chairman, Muhammad Yasin Malik, who reached Eidgah early alongwith thousands people was seen addressing the crowd before the prayers.
Other leaders who were present at Eidgah included Amir-e-Jamaat-e-Islami Sheikh Muhammad Hassan, Jamiat-e-Ihlihadees president Moulana Showkat, senior pro-freedom leaders Shabir Ahmad Shah, Nayeem Ahmad Khan, Moulana Abbas Ansari, Aga Syed Hassan, Azam Inqalabi, Shahid-ul-Islam, Saleem Nanaji, Javed Ahmad Mir, Mushtaq-ul-Islam, Shakeel Ahmad Bakshi.
Meanwhile, most masjids in the city and its outskirts remained closed as people joined the Eidgah Friday congregation.
For the first time after the 1993 siege of Hazratbal shrine, Friday prayers were not offered at the holiest Muslim shrine in Kashmir. The Hazratbal masjid houses the relic of Prophet Muhammad (SAW). Reports said that the Imam of the shrine had gone along with the people to offer prayers at Eidgah.
Almost all the masjids, including the Gaw Kadal masjid, where thousands offer prayers every Friday, in the civil lines and other areas in the city remained closed.
However, Friday prayers were held in some masjids in the civil lines but the number of prayers was very less. After the prayers, these people also left for Eidgah.
Similar situation was witnessed in other masjids in the outskirts.
Hurriyat (G) clarifies
Hurriyat Conference (G) leader, Masarat Alam, today said the people should not get confused by the posters issued by the Tehreek-e-Hurriyat, which call for a march to Eidgah on August 24. "This time we urge people to follow only the decisions of the coordination committee," he said.
Reports said the party had printed the posters for a rally before the unity efforts between the Hurriyat factions, but their distribution created some confusion. "There would be no Eidgah chalo on August 24, but Lal Chowk chalo on August 25."
Alam said the party has been receiving information from various districts that Army had barred people from visiting Eidgah on Friday. "We strongly condemn such actions," he said.