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Thousands Mourn Killed Protestors in Indian Kashmir

Tens of thousands of Muslims took to the streets of Indian administered Kashmir Saturday to mourn the death of a separatist leader. For VOA, Shanawaz Khan has this report from Srinagar in India-administered Kashmir.

Protesters traveled from Kashmir's main town Srinagar to the hometown Pampur of Sheikh Abdul Aziz who, along with 21 others, was killed by police this week in street battles.

Police kept their distance from Saturday's demonstration to avoid triggering another clash.

Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh called Friday for an end to the protests and violence, saying "all issues can be resolved only through dialogue and peaceful means."

At least 500 people were wounded in clashes this week between Kashmir Muslim protesters and Indian security forces.

Aziz was killed on Monday along with four others in police firing while leading a march to Muzaffarabad in Pakistan administered Kashmir, to protest a so-called economic blockade of the Muslim-dominated Kashmir Valley by right wing Hindu groups of Jammu province.

The unrest was triggered by the state government's decision in June to donate land to a Hindu shrine. Kashmir Muslims staged mass protests, forcing the government to revoke the transfer, which angered Hindus in Jammu province who launched protests and enforced a blockade of Kashmir Valley.

Separatist leader and Kashmir's main cleric Mirwaiz Umar says the issue has moved beyond land transfer.

"Now it is beyond land transfer," he said. "Now people are saying that anytime fundamentalists in India or in other regions of Jammu can cause an economic blockade in Kashmir. People are demanding that they have a birth right to trade with other side of Kashmir. Why can't we look for alternative market if we can have."

In India's capital, New Delhi, Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh called Friday for an end to the violence, saying divisive politics will lead the country nowhere. He said it is his conviction that all issues can be resolved only through dialogue and peaceful means.

Kashmir is divided between Pakistan and India, and claimed by both. The dispute has led to two of the three wars between the nuclear-armed rivals. Islamic separatists have been fighting for Kashmir's independence from India, or for the region's merger with Pakistan.