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Top Kashmiri separatist held after pro-Pakistan rally

SRINAGAR: Police arrested a prominent separatist leader in Indian-administered Kashmir on Friday after he headlined at a rally where supporters waved Pakistani flags and chanted pro-Pakistan slogans.

Masarat Alam Bhat, who was released in March after several years behind bars, was arrested at his home in the main city of Srinagar, a day after police registered a case against him for “anti-national” activities.

“He (Bhat) has been arrested after a case for unlawful activity was registered against him,” K. Rajendra, the state’s director general of police, told AFP.

The case stems from a rally on Wednesday organised to welcome another separatist leader Syed Ali Geelani on his return to Srinagar from New Delhi where he had spent the last three months receiving medical care.

Although the rally passed off peacefully, television images of Bhat leading a chorus of his supporters chanting “jeeve jeeve Pakistan (long live Pakistan)” and other slogans against India’s rule of the disputed region triggered widespread condemnation from politicians and the media.

Anti-India sentiment is deeply held across Kashmir, a picturesque Himalayan region which is India’s only Muslim-majority state.

Bhat rose to prominence in 2010 when he organised a series of mass protests before being detained without charge for four years under controversial public safety legislation.

Kashmir has been rocked by violent protests this week after the brother of a top rebel leader was killed by the army near the town of Tral in the south of the Kashmir valley.

The octogenarian Geelani is one of several separatist leaders who were placed under house arrest on Thursday night to prevent them from joining a protest march in Tral on Friday.

Kashmir is divided between India and Pakistan since the two countries gained independence in 1947. Both claim the territory in its entirety.

Although several rebel groups have been fighting Indian forces since 1989 for independence of a merger of the territory with Pakistan, street protests have become the principle mode of opposition to Indian rule.

Violence has declined steadily in the region during the last decade but armed encounters between rebels and government forces occur regularly. -AFP

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