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Protests Erupt as India, Pakistan Open Kashmir Border Crossing

Pakistani police have fired tear gas to disperse hundreds of people gathered at a ceremony at which India and Pakistan exchanged earthquake aid across the disputed Kashmir frontier. The rivals have postponed plans to allow civilians to cross the divided territory, disappointing many Kashmiris.

The mood was festive as senior army officials from the two sides shook hands at the Kashmir border, and relief supplies were unloaded from Indian trucks into Pakistani vehicles for victims of the October 8 earthquake.

But soon after, hundreds of villagers on the Pakistani side approached the frontier chanting "Let people cross" and "What we want is freedom", prompting police to use tear gas and fire warning shots to disperse the crowds.

Officials from both sides said the incident was not a setback to efforts to open up the Kashmir border.

Brigadier A.K. Bakshi of the Indian army told local television the people were simply showing their enthusiasm. Brigadier Bakshi says the mood at the opening ceremony was cordial and the aid for the earthquake survivors was exchanged in a friendly atmosphere.

No villagers from the Indian side attended the ceremony because of tight security.

Many Kashmiris were disappointed at not being allowed to cross the border, as previously announced by the two countries.

Nasir Malik, a resident of a border village in Pakistani Kashmir, attended Monday's ceremony.

Mr. Malik says people from both sides are extremely enthusiastic about meeting their relatives, and want travel restrictions to end.

The October 8th earthquake struck close to the Line of Control that divides Kashmir between the two rivals, devastating border villages in both countries and killing more than 70-thousand people.

Last month, India and Pakistan announced plans to open five points along the tightly-controlled frontier in response to demands from Kashmiris that they be allowed to help with relief efforts and find out about loved ones. But those plans have been postponed because the two countries say it will take about 10 days to work out logistics and complete formalities.

Both India and Pakistan say they are exchanging lists of people intending to cross and setting up centers for immigration processing.

In particular, New Delhi is concerned that Muslim militants may try to enter the Indian-controlled sector on the pretext of meeting family members. As a result only the Rawalkot-Poonch border point was opened on Monday to allow exchange of aid.

The line of control has divided Kashmir since India and Pakistan fought their first war over the region soon after gaining independence from Britain in 1947.