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Leading Separatist Assassinated As Indian PM Visits Kashmir - 2002-05-21

A leading separatist political leader and his bodyguard have been killed in India's Jammu and Kashmir state. The killing took place as India's prime minister began a visit to the state.

Abdul Ghani Lone, a leading moderate separatist political leader in Jammu and Kashmir, was gunned down while he attended a memorial service for another separatist leader who was killed a decade ago. The killing took place in Srinagar, the summer capital of the state.

Mr. Lone was an executive member of the 23 member All Party Hurriyat Conference, a collection of separtist political parties.

Prime Minister Atal Behari Vajpayee condemned the assassination, calling it unfortunate. Mr. Vajpayee had planned to meet with some separatist moderate during his visit to Kashmir to try and convince them to participate in state elections in September.

The All Parties Hurriyat Conference has called for a boycott of the elections, but earlier this week, Mr. Lone said he was not averse to talking with India, and that separatists should be innovative in their strategies.

S.K. Singh, a former Indian foreign secretary, said Mr. Lone's assassination will likely put a chill on political dialogue in the Kashmir valley. "Everyone will become more careful, more cautious about our forthcoming Jammu and Kashmir state elections," Mr. Singh said.

Mr. Lone who had survived three previous attempts on his life had spent long periods of time in detention for his separatist political activities.

During his visit to the state, Mr. Vajpayee plans to meet with the relatives of 34 people killed last week by suspected separatist militants, and with Indian army troops.

India blames Pakistan for supporting separatist militants a charge Islamabad denies.

Heavy shelling between Indian and Pakistani troops is continuing around the clock. Both countries are believed to have mobilized close to one million troops along their border.