India prevents defiant flag-raising in Kashmir
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India prevents defiant flag-raising in Kashmir

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SRINAGAR, India (AP) — Thousands of police in Indian-controlled Kashmir prevented a Hindu nationalist party and a separatist group from raising flags for their opposing causes in a central square Wednesday to mark India’s Republic Day.

Leaders of the Hindu nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party had planned to hoist the Indian flag in Lal Chowk, a Srinagar square that is a frequent site of anti-India protests.

In reaction, the Jammu Kashmir Liberation Front, a legal separatist group, said it would raise its party flag in the square.

However, a swarm of armed police sealed off the square, allowing no one in.

One BJP activist was arrested a few hundred yards (meters) from Lal Chowk after he began waving a small Indian flag, police said.

S.M. Sahai, an inspector-general of police, said six other BJP activists were arrested elsewhere in the city as they came out of their hotel.

Three separatist leaders, Yasin Malik, Bilal Lone and Shahid-ul Islam, were arrested later as they tried to march to the square, he said. They were charged with violating a law banning assembly of people in the area.

Officials in Kashmir as well as in New Delhi had been pressing the BJP for days to drop its plans for a flag raising, fearing it would spark more violence in the troubled Himalayan region, which is divided between India and Pakistan but claimed by both.

Three top leaders of the BJP, the main opposition party in the national Parliament, were detained by authorities Monday hundreds of miles (kilometers) from Srinagar as they tried to make their way to the city. On Tuesday, about 500 BJP workers were arrested as they entered the region, police said.

The three BJP leaders were released on Wednesday.

Anti-India sentiment runs deep in Kashmir, where separatist groups are fighting for independence or merger with Pakistan.

More than 68,000 people, mostly civilians, have been killed in the region since an armed revolt erupted in 1989.

Republic Day commemorates India’s adoption of a democratic constitution 61 years ago.

Several groups in India’s restive northeast and in Indian-controlled Kashmir called general strikes to mark the day, but parades by security forces in both places were held without incident.

In New Delhi, Indonesian President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono was the chief guest at a parade by thousands of Indian soldiers displaying the country’s growing military might. The parade also showcased the country’s cultural heritage with thousands of young people dancing in the streets.

Security personnel turned the parade route into a fortress, allowing in only those carrying special passes.

The Press Trust of India news agency said helicopters scanned the parade route, while sharpshooters took positions on rooftops.

India gained freedom from British colonial rule in 1947.

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