Kashmir, Punjab flare up after rumours of Quran burning in US

Last Updated: Mon, Sep 13, 2010 16:17 hrs

Srinagar/Chandigarh: Florida pastor Terry Jones did not go ahead with threats to burn the Quran, but rumours that copies of the holy book had been desecrated in the US led to ripples of tension in India, with the Kashmir Valley and two Punjab towns witnessing violent protests.

In the volatile Kashmir Valley, where curfew was imposed for the second consecutive day in major towns, three people were killed in the fallout of the protests and several people injured. Violent mobs torched a Christian missionary school in north Kashmir's Tangmarg town as well as several government offices.

The trouble began with a report in an Iranian TV channel Press TV claiming that copies of the Quran had been burnt at some places in the US.

As 24X7 curfew continued in major towns of the valley, hundreds of villagers from south Kashmir's Pulwama district took out processions, shouting pro-Quran and anti-America slogans. Such protests also erupted in Shalimar area of Srinagar city.

Pro-Islam and anti-US protests were also held at Humhama, Ompora, Shalteng, Shalimar, Newthead and other places in Srinagar.

While a protester and a policeman were killed in Badgam district, a youth died in firing by security forces in Bandipora district, taking to 73 the toll in ongoing unrest in the state.

An irate Jammu and Kashmir government banned local cable operators from airing Press TV after protesters in the valley defied curfew and took to the streets.

'We appeal to the people not to heed unverified reports about the alleged desecration of the Holy Quran which have only been aired by Press TV and no other television news channel in the world,' state Chief Secretary S.S. Kapur told reporters.

'We have decided to impose a ban on the airing of Press TV broadcasts by local cable operators,' Kapur said at a press conference.

He described as 'unfortunate' the arson attack on the school in Tangmarg town.

Trouble also spiralled in Punjab's Muslim majority Malerkotla town where the property of a church was set on fire by a mob following rumours that the Quran has been burnt in Michigan, US.

Curfew was imposed Monday in the town, about 150 km from the state capital Chandigarh, after violence had erupted the night before. A mob had gathered and proceeded to the town's only church, shouting slogans against the US government. The mob then set furniture of the church on fire before the police intervened.

Religious leaders from the Muslim and Christian communities met with district administration officials Monday and appealed to people to maintain calm. They said no heed should be paid to rumours about burning of the Quran in the US.

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Malerkotla town, which has a population of nearly 110,000, over 55 percent of them being Muslims, had been peaceful even during the partition of India in 1947.

There was also tension in Punjab's industrial hub of Ludhiana when members of the Muslim and Christian communities gathered following the rumours of the desecration of the Quran. However, district administration officials said efforts were on to calm the situation.