Srinagar: Parts of Srinagar erupted on Tuesday as a delegation of 23 European lawmakers arrived here on a two-day visit to assess the situation in the state.
A convoy of security vehicles escorted the Members of European Parliament (MEPs), who were travelling in bullet-proof vehicles, from the airport to their hotel where a traditional Kashmiri welcome awaited them. This is the first high-level foreign visitors’ delegation to J&K after it was stripped of its special status.
The team originally comprised 27 MEPs, drawn mainly from far-right parties of 11 European countries, but four of them opted out at the last minute and have reportedly returned to their respective countries after the authorities refused to permit them to visit places and meet people on their own in the Valley, citing security reasons.
Soon after their arrival here, the EU delegation visited the headquarters of Army’s 15 Corps in Badami Bagh Cantonment where they were served lunch and subsequently briefed on the security situation in the Valley and the LoC.
Army sources said that the delegation was also apprised of the “constant attempts being made by Pakistan to disturb peace in J&K by pushing in terrorists” and “inciting local youth to violence” at the briefing.
The visit set off fresh tensions in the Valley. While a complete shutdown was observed in the Valley, clashes between irate crowds of youths and security forces erupted at dozens of places in Srinagar and elsewhere.
Security forces fired teargas canisters and pellet shotguns at a few places, leaving a large number of people injured.
At least four persons with pellet injuries were admitted to a Srinagar hospital. Another person who had been hit by a stone in the head was hospitalised. His family alleged that he was targeted by members of a Central armed police force. People had put up blockades in at least five different places in Srinagar, including Downtown Srinagar and 90 Feet Road. Groups of youth attacked running cars with stones, causing damage to them, witnesses said.
While shopkeepers and other traders did not open their establishments even during the morning hours as they have usually done for past several weeks, the movement of vehicles on the roads was very thin compared to the recent past. Vendors, who have been setting up their stalls over the past weeks, also did not turn up on Tuesday.
The MEPs were taken boating near the Centaur Hotel, where more than 30 politicians and activists have been under detention since August 5.
Later, at a dinner meeting with top government and security forces officials at a city hotel, the delegation was also told that the security clampdown imposed in the state in August was necessary to maintain law and order and prevent violence. The officials pointed out to the relatively limited number of incidents of violence compared with previous bouts of unrest as a result of this measure. The dinner was hosted by J&K’s chief secretary, B.V.R. Subrahmanyam.
The EU embassy had clarified that the members of the delegation were in India in their “personal capacity” and not as part of an official delegation. Reports said that they were invited by a local NGO called WESTT, which is hosting them. The NGO is reportedly headed by Indian origin businesswoman, Madi Sharma....