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Protests in Kashmir herald poll tensions

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Mr. Geelani's sentiments are shared by many. Public feeling in the state certainly runs high as 90 percent of the population in Srinagar believes that Kashmir should be independent of either India or Pakistan, according to a poll in an Indian newspaper.

For two decades, militant groups have been fighting for the state's independence, or its merger with neighboring Pakistan, which rules the other portion of the disputed Himalayan region. Some 50,000 people have been killed in the conflict, and the region has sparked three wars between India and Pakistan since the partition of the subcontinent in 1947.

In recent years, life has been relatively peaceful in the Kashmir Valley, an area once described by former President Bill Clinton as the most dangerous place on earth. This is largely due to renewed peace talks between India and Pakistan as well as the decline of the Hizbul Mujahideen, Kashmir's largest militant group.

But some observers believe that a resurgence in Kashmiri militancy is in the offing. In April, the United Jihad Council, an umbrella group of Kashmiri militants, held its first public rally since 2001 in Muzaffarabad, Pakistan.

Communal tensions

Kashmir's latest controversy came about when the state government – led by the Congress Party that rules at India's center – said that it would transfer 99 acres of land to the Shri Amarnath Shrine Board, which manages a shrine in a cave containing an icicle believed to be an incarnation of the god Shiva. The board was to build huts and toilets for the thousands of Hindu tourists that visit each year.

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