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Kashmiris Infuriated by Falwell

India: Protests erupt after report that televangelist called Muhammad a terrorist.

October 08, 2002|MARK MAGNIER | TIMES STAFF WRITER

NEW DELHI — Thousands of Muslims demonstrated in India's Jammu and Kashmir state Monday after a local newspaper reported that conservative U.S. religious leader Jerry Falwell had called the founder of Islam a terrorist.

People shouted slogans, shops and businesses closed, and demonstrators attacked vehicles as Islamic groups called for a daylong strike to protest Falwell's remarks, which were made in an interview broadcast Sunday on CBS-TV's "60 Minutes."

The Greater Kashmir newspaper quoted the region's main separatist alliance, the All Party Hurriyat Conference, as saying that Falwell's remarks about Muhammad were part of a "war against humanity" and that Christians are the "terrorists."

"They wreaked havoc in Vietnam, killed innocent people in Iraq and are responsible for the killings of Palestinians," the group said.

Associated Press quoted Kashmir's chief Muslim cleric, Mirwaiz Omar Farooq, as saying Falwell's comment "reflects his ignorance and bigotry."

Falwell had "no right to outrage the religious sentiments of the second-largest religious group in the world," Farooq was quoted as saying.

Activity Monday in several main towns, including Jammu and Kashmir's summer capital, Srinagar, slowed to a crawl. Falwell's comments were not broadcast in the state.

At least 14 people were killed in the disputed region, adding to the hundreds of casualties recorded since voting for a new state assembly was announced Aug. 2. Polling has taken place in stages so that security forces, poll workers and observers can move from one area to another.

Both India and Pakistan lay claim to the Kashmir region, which has been the subject of two wars between the wary neighbors since they became independent from Britain in 1947. Close to a million Indian and Pakistani soldiers are positioned along their border.

The voting wraps up this week. Seven seats in Jammu and Kashmir's Doda district are up for grabs, with about 90,000 security forces deployed for today's vote. Polling stations are under tight security. Some are located in such remote spots that election officials have been dropped in by helicopters.

Voter turnout to decide the other 80 seats for the 87-member legislature has been around 44%, well below the 54% participation rate in a 1996 election.

But analysts report less vote-rigging by pro-Indian officials than six years ago. In that context, some argue, the turnout isn't bad.

"To the extent this election has turned into a contest of legitimacy between Pakistan and India, India has come out ahead in the propaganda war," said Ajai Sahni, executive director of the Institute for Conflict Management in New Delhi.

In fighting today, at least one police officer and a guerrilla were killed in an attack on a polling station in Doda district. Three suspected separatists, a police officer and a civilian died in incidents across Doda on Monday. Clashes elsewhere killed three other suspected separatists, three civilians and three security force personnel.

One of the closely watched contests today will be in Kupwara, bordering Pakistan. First-round voting there was postponed after state Law Minister Mushtaq Ahmad Lone was assassinated by separatists opposed to the election.

Final statewide results are expected by week's end. With many moderate separatists boycotting the election, the ruling Indian National Conference party is expected to return to power, although its majority could be diminished.

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