South Asia News
Indian authorities block nationalists' march on Kashmir
Jan 25, 2011, 13:15 GMT
Srinagar, Kashmir - Hundreds of supporters of India's Hindu nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) were arrested Tuesday as they crossed into Jammu and Kashmir state, when they attempted to carry the national flag to the state's capital Srinagar, police said.
The BJP, India's main opposition party, organized the rally in support of India's sovereignty over the state of Jammu and Kashmir, where separatist sentiment is strong among the Muslim majority.
After a rally in Madhopur in neighbouring Punjab, the crowd of BJP members and supporters marched across a bridge towards the state border, IANS news agency reported.
State authorities on the other side had put up barricades telling the marchers their gathering was illegal and any attempt to force their way through would be stopped.
After pushing their way through, 400 to 500 of the nationalists were arrested, NDTV news channel reported.
The BJP launched the or unity march, on January 12 in several cities, hoping that its supporters would join up to hoist the Indian flag at the centre of Srinagar on Republic Day, Wednesday.
Separatist leaders in insurgency-hit Jammu and Kashmir have vowed to oppose the flag-hoisting project.
State Chief Minister Omar Abdullah said he would take all measures to stop both the BJP's ceremony as well the planned protests by the separatists.
The march and the arrests had so far been peaceful, a police officer said. Most had been detained for violating section 144 of the penal code, which prohibits gatherings of more than four people in the state.
Arun Jaitley, a BJP leader, said 'Our workers will raise flags in different parts of Jammu and Kashmir on Republic Day tomorrow,' speaking to reporters after giving himself up for arrest.
Jaitley said the police action showed that the state and federal governments had capitulated to the separatists. 'This is the first time in independent India that people with the national flag have been arrested,' he said.
The BJP march comes amid an uneasy peace in Jammu and Kashmir after months of anti-India protests from June to September during which over 100 protestors died.
Violent protests and a militant secessionist movement - which peaked in the late 1980s - has led to the deaths of more than 45,000 civilians, security forces and militants in India-administered Kashmir.
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