India fears violence may mar Independence Day bash

From the mountains of Kashmir to the forests of central India and the troubled towns of its remote northeast, troops are on the streets in a major security crackdown ahead of Independence Day celebrations.

India fears violence may mar Independence Day bash

India celebrates the 60th anniversary of independence from British rule on Wednesday, a day traditionally marked by violent attacks by separatists or Maoist rebels, and security forces are on their highest level of alert in many areas.

In New Delhi, Prime Minister Manmohan Singh will unfurl the national flag from the ramparts of the historic Red Fort on Wednesday morning to a 21-gun salute, and then address the nation in a speech expected to laud six decades of progress.

But about 1,400 km (900 miles) away in the remote northeast, separatists in the oil- and tea-rich state of Assam have already killed 30 people since Wednesday, including women and children, all of them Hindi-speaking settlers.

The army has intensified patrols and aerial surveillance of Assam's hills and forests, while armed police have mounted roadblocks outside the major towns and even conducted house-to-house searches in some areas.

Police say more attacks are planned, with reports guerrillas have sneaked into Assam's main city Guwahati and other towns from hideouts in neighboring Bangladesh and Myanmar.

"We have enough intelligence inputs suggesting the militants are out to create trouble before and on August 15," a senior police officer said on condition of anonymity.

"They might also target prominent political leaders to create a fear psychosis among the people."

The United Liberation Front of Asom has been fighting for independence of ethnic Assamese since 1979 and accuses New Delhi and non-Assamese people of plundering the state's resources and ruining its culture.
In the capital New Delhi and the financial centre of Mumbai, both of which have been frequently targeted by gunmen, police deployed additional forces and stepped up monitoring traffic entering the cities, authorities and witnesses said.

"We don't want to be complacent. We are ready to face any challenge," said P.S. Pasricha, police chief of Maharashtra, of which Mumbai is the capital.

"With the current scenario in the country... we take everything seriously."

MISERY FOR KASHMIRIS

Life has once again been seriously disrupted in Kashmir by a security crackdown, with unpopular "cordon and search" operations and frisking of civilians stepped up.

"Our locality has witnessed four search operations in the past six days. It is disturbing our daily routine," said schoolteacher Bilkees Khan, adding that Independence Day and January's Republic Day "only bring misery to us".

Kashmiri separatist groups have called for a general strike on August 15, calling it a "black day" and the celebrations "meaningless" until Kashmir got freedom from Indian rule.

In eastern India, Maoist insurgents have distributed leaflets in towns and villages asking people to boycott the celebrations.

Thousands of police have been deployed to guard railway stations, airports and government buildings as well as power plants and factories in the region.

"We are very careful this year and have dozens of plainclothes policemen traveling in trains and buses looking for anyone suspicious," said Raj Kanojia, a top police officer. Additional forces have also been deployed along India's porous border with Bangladesh, with border guards frisking people in border towns to stop fighters from sneaking in.

But despite the threats, most of the country is expecting to celebrate the holiday in peace.

Colorful lights have been installed on the streets of Kolkata, and paper flags put up along railings and overhead.

"Amidst all the trouble and violence, August 15 is a day to celebrate and I am partying outside the city with friends," said computer engineer Amit Chatterjee.

Reuters

Last Mod: 13 Ağustos 2007, 13:20
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