SRINAGAR, India — Tens of thousands of Muslims waving green and black protest flags marched through Indian Kashmir's main city on Monday and gathered in front of U.N. offices demanding freedom from India and intervention by the world body.
Hundreds of trucks and buses overflowing with protesters — some sitting on roofs and hanging out of windows — made their way across the Himalayan region to Srinagar for the protest.
Demonstrators tore down barbed wire barricades that authorities had erected on roads leading to the U.N. offices and chanted "Down with India."
Thousands of police and paramilitary forces in riot gear guarded the streets, but no violence was reported.
Masarat Aalam, a prominent separatist, said leaders would deliver a petition to the U.N. office in Srinagar citing human rights violations by Indian authorities and requesting U.N. intervention.
"This is a march for our freedom," protester Sajid Maqbool said as thousands chanted the name of Lashkar-e-Tayyaba, one of the most violent Islamic militant groups fighting to wrest the predominantly Muslim region from Hindu-majority India.
"Lashkar has arrived. It is your death, India. Lashkar has come," the crowd chanted. Apart from its activities in Kashmir, the Pakistan-based group also has been blamed for deadly terror bombings across India in recent years.
Organizers said the protest was the largest against Indian rule since unrest sharply escalated two months ago.
At least 34 people have been killed in Indian-administered Kashmir in the unrest, which has pitted Muslims against the region's Hindu minority.
Land dispute triggers crisis
The crisis began in June with a dispute over land near a Hindu shrine. Muslims held protests complaining that a state government plan to transfer 99 acres (40 hectares) to a Hindu trust to build facilities for pilgrims near the shrine was actually a settlement plan meant to alter the religious balance in the region.
The unrest has since intensified anti-Indian feelings in Kashmir, unleashed pent-up tensions between Kashmir's Muslims and Hindus, and threatened to snap the bonds between India and its only Muslim-majority state.
A subsequent decision by the state government to scrap the plan angered the region's Hindus. At least two Hindus have killed themselves in protest.
Kashmir's only Hindu-majority city, Jammu, also saw more protests Monday as thousands of people defied a ban on public gatherings there and gathered in large groups hoping to court arrest — a tactic pioneered by Indian independence leader and pacifist Mohandas K. Gandhi.
One of the organizers, Suchet Singh, said such gatherings would go on for three days and that more than 100,000 people were expected to take part.
Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh appealed for calm.
"All political parties, all right-thinking people must work together to bring the situation under control," Singh told reporters Monday outside Parliament in New Delhi.
There is a long history of separatist movements in India's portion of Kashmir, but most were peaceful until 1989 when an Islamic insurgency began that has killed an estimated 68,000 people. India accuses Pakistan of aiding the insurgents — a charge Pakistan denies. The separatists seek Indian Kashmir's independence or its union with Muslim Pakistan.
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