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Kashmir Hindu Groups Call Off Strike After Government Budges

Hindu groups in Indian administered Kashmir have suspended a two-month protest over a land dispute, after the state government ceded to their demands. Shahnawaz Khan reports for VOA from Indian-Kashmir's summer capital Srinagar.

Hindu protesters defied a curfew in Jammu district of Indian-administered Kashmir to hold a victory march after the government acceded to their demands. Officials said they imposed the curfew because they feared a militant attack on the victory rally.

Marchers threw stones at soldiers, who responded with tear gas.

The government has allowed a Hindu Shrine Board, at the center of the land dispute, exclusive use of 40 hectares of forest to provide facilities to pilgrims for three months each year. But the land has not been transferred to the Shrine Board, as had been done in June.

Leela Karan Sharma, of Shri Amarnath Yatra Sangarsh Samiti, the group spearheading the protests, told reporters in Jammu the government has met most of its demands.

"I am happy that the task that I had taken upon myself has been completed, with honesty and courage," Sharma said. "The land has been kept aside for exclusive use of shrine board, without any payment."

Kashmiri Muslims had protested the government's June decision to transfer the land to the Board, alleging India planned to create Hindu settlements in Muslim-dominated Kashmir. The protests grew into large pro-freedom marches.

The government then rescinded the order, which led to protests in Hindu-dominated Jammu province.

The latest government decision hopes to create peace in Jammu, but it is unclear how Kashmir Valley will respond to it. A coordination committee of Kashmiri Muslim separatists is discussing the issue in Srinagar, in the absence of its top leadership.

At least 40 people, mostly Kashmiri Muslims, have been killed in police clashes with protesters this month and six top separatist leaders were arrested.

The U.N. Human Rights office this week urged Indian authorities to respect the right to freedom of assembly and expression, and comply with international human-rights principles in controlling the demonstrators.

India described the comments as unwarranted.

India and Pakistan each claim Jammu and Kashmir in full and control parts of it divided by a de-facto border. Muslim separatists have been fighting for the Independence of Indian-administered Kashmir or for its merger with Pakistan since 1989.