India arrests top Kashmir politician as crisis deepens

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Shah Faesal, president of the Jammu and Kashmir People’s Movement, was detained in New Delhi as he was about to fly to Turkey. (Reuters)
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The streets of Pulwama town, south of Kashmir, look deserted on Wednesday. Many arrests of young people have taken place in the area. (AN photo by Manzoor Ul Hassan)
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The streets of the Shopian town, south of Kashmir, look deserted on Wednesday. Many youths have been arrested from the area. (AN photo by Manzoor Ul Hassan)
Updated 15 August 2019

India arrests top Kashmir politician as crisis deepens

  • Police making arrests to avoid civilian casualties, says official

SRINAGAR: Police on Wednesday arrested a politician from Indian-administered Kashmir, as a crisis in the region deepened.

Shah Faesal, who is president of the Jammu and Kashmir People’s Movement, was detained at New Delhi’s Indira Gandhi International Airport before he was able to board his flight to Turkey.

He is one of hundreds of political and civil society leaders who have been detained since India imposed a communications blackout and security lockdown in Kashmir.

Kashmir has been divided between India and Pakistan following their independence from Britain in 1947, but both claim it in full. 

Earlier this month India brought its portion under direct rule, stripping the Muslim-majority region of its special status and sparking a backlash. Article 370 gave exclusive land rights to the people of Kashmir and blocked outsiders from seeking jobs and settlement in the state.

“It’s an indiscriminate clampdown and paramilitary personnel are randomly picking up youths,” said Naeem Dar. He lives in Pulwama and has two relatives who were taken into preventive custody last week. 

“There is a strong sense of fear that anyone can be picked up.”

A police official told a news conference that people were being arrested to stop civilian casualties. 

“In this kind of law and order situation different kinds of detentions have taken place so that the established miscreants don’t vitiate the atmosphere,” said Munir Khan, who is additional director general of police in Jammu and Kashmir. 

“Preventive detentions are taking place and we are arresting people under the Public Safety Act. But we are releasing some, mostly those who were participating in protests for the first time, after they sign a surety bond. These arrests are taking place to avoid civilian casualties.”

Rohit Kansal, principal secretary of the Jammu and Kashmir government, defended Faesal’s detention, saying it was “on the grounds of law and order.” He did not say when political detainees would be released.

India has detained three former Jammu and Kashmir chief ministers — Farooq Abdullah, Omar Abdullah and Mehbooba Mufti — as well as activists and separatist leaders in the last 10 days. They have been taken to different parts of India.

It’s an indiscriminate clampdown and paramilitary personnel are randomly picking up youths.

Naeem Dar, Resident of Pulwama

Some who have not been detained are refusing to give interviews. 

Arab News tried to talk to a prominent human rights activist in Srinagar, but he declined because of the “unprecedented situation prevailing in the valley.”

Local journalists are also scared to publish any “unpalatable story” and newspapers have cut down on the number of pages.

“The media is under great pressure in the valley,” Altaf Hussain told Arab News. The political analyst and former journalist said the media was not free to report what it wanted. 

“It’s not only people who are living under a heavy clampdown, with their movement highly restricted and being completely cut off from any means of communication.” 

Syed Abdul Rouf, who lives in downtown Srinagar, was angry at the way Kashmiris were being treated.

“If the government thinks that, if by putting security forces at every nook and corner of the valley, they can scare us they are living in a fool’s paradise. People will react strongly the moment that the restrictions are lifted.”

Fayaz Ahmad, a trader, said everyone was scared.

“Not only have our leaders been arrested, many ordinary people have also been detained,” he told Arab News. 

“I ask why? Don’t we have democratic rights to express our anguish at the way the Indian government has trampled on our identity?”

Tens of thousands of troop reinforcements have been deployed to Srinagar and other towns and villages, according to news agency AFP. 

But the lockdown has not deterred people from taking to the streets.

Media reports say that thousands have been demonstrating, with security forces firing tear gas and pellet-firing shotguns to break up the protests.

There has been an armed rebellion against Indian rule since 1989, claiming tens of thousands of lives, mostly civilians.


Australian government to aid tourism industry as bushfires recede

Updated 19 January 2020

Australian government to aid tourism industry as bushfires recede

  • Recent rains have brought the number of fires burning across Australia’s east and south coast to under 100 for the first time in weeks
  • The Australian government said it will channel A$76 million ($52 million) to the tourism industry

MELBOURNE: The Australian government said on Sunday it will financially aid the country’s tourism sector that’s been badly hit by long-lasting bushfires, as Melbourne braced for downpours at the start of one of its greatest allures, the Australian Open.
Recent rains have brought the number of fires burning across Australia’s east and south coast to under 100 for the first time in weeks, easing a disaster that has scorched an area roughly one-third the size of Germany.
The Australian government said on Sunday it will channel A$76 million ($52 million) to the tourism industry.
Twenty-nine people have been killed in the fires while thousands of animals have also perished.
Fears of smoke from the fires disrupting the Australian Open receded in Melbourne where the year’s first Grand Slam starts on Monday, but the city and parts of the bushfire-ravaged Victoria were bracing for heavy rains.
“Victoria is about to see its wettest two-day period in many, many months,” Dean Narramore from the state’s Bureau of Meteorology said.
More than 780,000 fans attended the two-week Australian Open last year, according to figures from the office of the state’s premier, providing a major influx of cash for Victoria’s economy.
Damages to the tourism industry from the bushfire disaster have approached A$1 billion so far and may go above A$4.5 billion by the end of the year, according to estimates from Australian tourism bodies.
The government said the aid announced on Sunday was “an initial push” to help the country’s A$152 billion tourism industry, an increasingly vital part of Australia’s economy, that accounts for more than 3 percent of annual economic output.
In a joint statement released with Prime Minister Scott Morrison, Tourism Minister Simon Birmingham said the bushfires have dealt the biggest reputational blow to the Australian tourism industry that it has ever faced internationally.
“Tourism is the lifeblood of so many communities around Australia and it’s absolutely critical that we help to get people back visiting those communities,” Birmingham said.