Violence as truck attack victim dies; Kashmir bandh called

Srinagar (IANS) Violence raged in parts of the Kashmir Valley on Sunday after a victim of the October 9 fire-bomb attack on a truck in Udhampur died in Delhi and separatists and others called for a bandh on Monday, police and residents said.

Zahid Rasool Bhat, who was being treated for serious burn injuries in Delhi’s Safdarjung Hospital, died early on Sunday, a police officer told IANS here. Some reports said Bhat was aged 16, while other reports said he was in his early 20s.

As news of the death in Delhi spread on Sunday, mobs took to the streets in the southern district of Anantnag in the Kashmir Valley and blocked the Jammu-Srinagar highway by burning tyres.

The highway is the most strategic road link between the Kashmir Valley and the rest of India.

They also pelted stones at security personnel who tried to disperse them with tear gas, triggering street battles.

Meanwhile, separatist leaders, including Syed Ali Geelani, Mirwaiz Umar Farooq and Muhammad Yasin Malik and local traders, transporters and manufacturers unions called for a complete protest shutdown on Monday against the incident.

Hurriyat chairman Mirwaiz Umar Farooq said the state government was to blame for Bhat’s death as it failed to provide security to the truckers.

Zahid Bhat and another Kashmiri from Anantnag district, Showkat Ahmad Dar, 35, sustained major injuries when a mob hurled a petrol bomb on their stationary truck at Udhampur on the Jammu-Srinagar highway.

Udhampur District Magistrate Shahid Chowdhary on Sunday said that murder charges had been added to the FIR against the five attackers arrested earlier. They were first accused of rioting and stoking communal passion.

The accused are Sandoor Singh, Danish alias Pamma, Harish Singh, Balbahadur Singh and Varinder Singh alias Kaka.

The accused were also booked under the Public Safety Act, normally used against terrorists in the country’s only Muslim-majority state.

The attack took place following a beef party hosted by independent legislator Engineer Rashid in Srinagar.

Both the victims of the attack were flown to Safdarjung Hospital which specializes in treating burn injuries.

Jammu and Kashmir Chief Minister Mufti Muhammad Sayeed had visited them at the hospital three days back.

Meanwhile, the body of Bhat was flown from Delhi to Kashmir on Sunday evening in a state-owned aircraft.

A senior police officer said the body was received at the Srinagar airport by ruling Peoples Democratic Party president and Lok Sabha member Mehbooba Mufti, state Finance Minister Haseeb Drabu, and state Law and Parliamentary Affairs Minister Syed Basharat Bukhari, besides state police chief K. Rajendra Kumar and other senior officials.

“Ghulam Rasool Bhat, the elder brother of Zahid, also came from Delhi in the same plane,” the officer said.

A large contingent of police and paramilitary forces formed part of the convoy in which the body was taken to Batango village in Anantnag district, where the burial would take place, the officer said.

A large number of people gathered on the highway from Bijbehara town onwards to Batango village, 52 km from Srinagar city.

Former chief ministers Dr. Farooq Abdullah and his son Omar Abdullah expressed shock over the death of the youth and blamed the BJP and its ruling alliance partners for “stoking communal passions” which led to the Udhampur attack.

Chief Minister Mufti Muhammad Sayeed too condoled the death of the youth and assured that those responsible for the dastardly act would be brought to justice.

In the wake of the bandh call, the first convocation of Islamic University of Science and Technology (Awantipora) scheduled for Monday was postponed.

All exams of Kashmir University and state board of school education scheduled for Monday were also postponed.

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