On a day Kashmir's resistance leadership had called for relaxation in 'hartals' to enable people to buy essential commodities, police on Thursday enforced stringent curfew across Kashmir and told shopkeepers to down the shutters, drawing flak from the traders' community. The police—as soon as the shopkeepers started hitting the markets to open their outlets—formally announced that curfew is in place and that there shall be no relaxation "till further orders."
A group of J&K policemen acted tough against shopkeepers in Srinagar's commercial hub Lal Chowk when they tried to open their shops following the resistance camp's programme that relaxed 'hartal' after 2 pm on Thursday to enable people to buy and stock essential commodities. The police action triggered massive resentment from Valley's trade organizations.
As the clock ticked 2 pm, majority of shopkeepers tried to open their chops in Lal Chowk and elsewhere. However, policemen, who were deployed in strength, asked the shopkeepers to down their shutters.
"We have orders not to allow you to open the markets," a cop told a provisional store owner near Lal Chowk's Clock Tower here. This reporter was present at the spot when the cops were enforcing the shutdown.
"I tried to open my shop twice, but policemen didn't allow me and instead threatened to 'chalaan' (fine) me for opening the shop," said owner of a provisional store at Moulana Azad Road here. However, a nearby drug-store owner was asked to not to down his shop shutter. "You continue, medicines are important," a cop shouted at the owner.
Within 10 minutes, all shopkeepers who had come from their residences to open their shops at Lal Chowk—after 12 days of continued curfew and shutdowns—closed their outlets and left.
According to reports, people in large numbers had thronged the markets in response to the resistance camp's call. Scores of vehicles were also seen plying on city roads after 2 pm.
To enforce restrictions and curfew, police had placed concertina wire at Regal Chowk and near the Clock Tower to ensure that no business activity takes place, a number of agitated shopkeepers said.
Reports of police enforcing strict curbs also poured in from Batamaloo, and old Srinagar areas.
A police 'beat' was set ablaze by protesters at Karan Nagar here on Thursday evening. Later clashes between forces and youth rocked the area and were on till reports last came in.
President of Kashmir Traders and Manufacturers Federation, Muhammad Yaseen Khan, said police made the announcement of continuation of curfew at various places including Batamaloo, Shalteng and Natipora. "We saw no such announcements over the past 12 days. At Shalteng, policemen beat up few shopkeepers who were trying to open their shops on the relaxation call given by the pro-freedom leaders," he told Greater Kashmir. "We also saw policemen warning the shopkeepers in Lal Chowk against opening their shops."
He said the traders' fraternity will "follow each and every program of pro-freedom camp in coming days."
A senior police officer said they had "apprehensions of law and order problem" during the day.
"We had reports that people may assemble at Lal Chowk and resort to violence which may result in damage to goods of shopkeepers," he claimed.
Deputy Commissioner Srinagar Farooq Ahmed Lone said they had "already announced restrictions in Srinagar for Thursday."
"We had nothing to do with others (separatists)," he said.
A senior official in South Kashmir's Pulwama district said its administration passed orders to ensure "stringent curbs are put in place" on Thursday.
"This was a move to avoid large gathering of people," he said.
To ensure curfew and restrictions remain in place to counter the pro-freedom camp's relaxation call, a police spokesman issued a statement on Thursday, which read: "There will be no relaxation in curfew and restrictions across Kashmir. The curfew and restrictions will remain strictly in place throughout the day till further orders."
Meanwhile, strict curfew remained in place across Kashmir for the 13th consecutive day. Clashes between youths and police were reported from various areas of Srinagar including Rainawari, Batamaloo, Natipora and Nowhatta on Thursday evening. Witnesses said forces resorted to aerial firing in Natipora where two youth were allegedly beaten by cops. Reports said a peaceful protest rally was taken out in Gurez area of north Kashmir's Bandipora district on Wednesday in solidarity with people of rest of the Valley. Reports said locals of Gurez Valley condemned the civilian killings and called for lifting of curbs and restrictions in Kashmir.
National Conference legislator from Gurez, Nazir Gurezi, said the government should immediately lift curfew as people are facing shortage of essentials, drugs and baby food. "Some people want to divide us. We condemn the killing of civilians. I on behalf of people of Gurez express solidarity with people of rest of the Valley," said Gurezi, who is also deputy speaker of the State Legislative Assembly.
Reports of clashes also poured in from Nuner area of Ganderbal district while complete shutdown remained in force in Budgam district.
Reports said two JKLF leaders Zahoor Ahmed Bhat and Muhammad Yaseen Bhat were detained by police when they tried to meet JKLF chief Muhammad Yasin Malik at Kothibagh police station here. The duo was later lodged at police station Rajbagh.
At least 44 people have been killed while over 2100 injured—170 of them with pellet injuries—over the past 13 days of widespread protests against the killing of Hizbul Mujahideen commander Burhan Wani.
Meanwhile, a police spokesman said the situation throughout the Kashmir "remained peaceful and under control." "There were no reports of any untoward incident from anywhere in the valley although a couple of stray stone pelting incidents were reported from Nowpora-Sopore and Karan Nagar-Srinagar," the spokesman said.
A complete shutdown was observed in Kargil town against the civilian killings in Kashmir. Reports said all the shops and business establishments were closed while traffic remained off the roads throughout the day. Pertinently, the shutdown call was given by Imam Khomeini Trust and influential Islamia School Kargil.
Curfew remained in place in South Kashmir for the 13th consecutive day Thursday even as protests continued at several places.
Though separatists had asked people to resume their business after 2 pm, the district authorities didn't lift the curfew. "At around 1 pm, police vehicles fitted with loudspeakers announced that curfew will continue and no one would be allowed to move out," local residents in Anantnag said.
Reports of protests poured in from Kokernag and Mattan areas of the district.