REMEMBERING THE FOUNDER: JKLF activists take out a rally on the 23rd death anniversary of Maqbool Bhat, founding member of the organisation, in Srinagar on Sunday.

Special Correspondent

Separatists demand that the Centre hand over the remains of Maqbool Bhat

SRINAGAR: The separatist parties on Sunday reiterated their demand that the remains of the Jammu and Kashmir Liberation Front founder, Maqbool Bhat, who was hanged and later buried in Tihar jail on this day in 1984, be handed over to the Kashmiris. While a general strike crippled life in Kashmir, several people were arrested by the police during protests here.

The biggest rally, organised by the Maqbool Foundation and supported by Democratic Freedom Party chief Shabir A. Shah, was held in Tregam near Kupwara, around 100 km from here.

Addressing the rally, Mr. Shah called upon the Government to "hand over the remains of Bhat to the people of Kashmir, who are the real heirs of the great leader. Maqbool had a mission, and we are carrying it forward."

He criticised the Government for "continuing genocide, on the one hand, and talking about the peace process, on the other. These two things cannot go together." The recent expose of fake encounters had put a big question mark on the Government's credibility, he said.

Hashim Qureshi, head of the Democratic Liberation Party, told a gathering in Tregam that Bhat was "a torchbearer," and that he was against oppression. "Please do not link him with terrorism only. His taking recourse to violence was an outcome of the overall situation prevailing at that time. If Bhat were alive today, he would choose only dialogue for the resolution of the Kashmir issue."

Mr. Qureshi condemned the atrocities carried out by both the security forces and the militants. He suggested that the Special Operations Group be brought under the Jammu and Kashmir police.

In Srinagar, JKLF activists staged protests against the hanging and demanded that the remains of Bhat be given to them. Police detained dozens of activists as both JKLF factions tried to stage a protest march. The protesters, who were carrying photographs of Bhat, tried to march through Lal Chowk, the city centre, but were stopped by the police.

Another protest march, led by JKLF leader Javaid Ahmad Mir, was also broken up by the police. Mr. Mir and 19 of his supporters were taken into custody.

A public interest litigation, seeking the return of the mortal remains of Bhat, is under way in the Jammu and Kashmir High Court. The demand for the return of Bhat's remains gained momentum after the New Delhi-based journalist Iftikhar Geelani, detained in Tihar jail wrote in his book, My days in prison, that construction was being carried out over Bhat's grave.