(MENAFN - Gulf Times) Authorities yesterday defended blocking opposition politicians from visiting Jammu and Kashmir, saying it was to 'avoid controversy weeks after stripping the state of its autonomy and imposing a major clampdown.
The Bharatiya Janata Party government has been criticised by the main opposition Congress party over the contentious move on August 5 that brings Kashmir which has waged an armed rebellion against Indian control since 1989 under its direct rule.
The state remains under strict lockdown with movement limited and many phone and Internet services cut, although authorities say they have been easing restrictions gradually.
Former Congress president Rahul Gandhi was earlier invited by Governor Satya Pal Malik to visit Kashmir.
But video released by Congress showed Gandhi questioning officials about why he was stopped from entering Kashmir's main city of Srinagar at the airport on Saturday.
'The governor has said I'm invited. He has invited me so I have come but you're saying I can't go, he said.
'And the government is saying everything is OK, everything is normal. So if everything is normal, why are we not allowed out? It is a bit surprising.
State police chief Dilbagh Singh said police supported the decision.
'In an environment that is getting to normalcy, we didn't want any controversial statement from anyone. That's why they were asked to return from the airport itself, Singh said.
Malik said he invited Gandhi out of goodwill but that he then politicised the issue.
The controversy came as key separatist group Hurriyat Conference, a coalition of separatists, released its first official comments since the clampdown and called for locals to 'resist at this critical juncture New Delhi's move.
'Each and every person must face the naked Indian brutality with courage. People should organise peaceful protests and demonstrations in their areas of residence, top separatist leader Syed Ali Geelani said in a statement.
'While doing so, we must remain absolutely disciplined and not give the enemy, who is armed and ready to kill, any excuse whatsoever to hurt our lives and property, he said.
'If the Indian armed forces still attack our gatherings, the entire responsibility for the possible loss of lives and property will be on them, and the world will remain witness to their deeds.
Referring to the government's decision to split the region into two, Geelani said the move showed the real 'deceitful and brutal nature of the authorities.
'They are a firm and brazen display of India's intention in forcing a demographic change and the creation of settler colonies in Kashmir in violation of all international laws and the United Nations resolutions on Kashmir. The rulers from Delhi are drunk on power and arrogance of majoritarianism and they have snatched away all precepts of humanity, ethics and democracy, he said.
The Hurriyat Conference added that Pakistan and the wider Muslim community should 'come forward to help the besieged people.
The call came as the federal home ministry refuted a report by News18 television yesterday that the state was running out of lifesaving medicines, saying supplies were 'slightly higher than the monthly average.
Meanwhile, almost 250 stone-pelting incidents in have left dozens injured in the state.
Despite the clampdown there have been frequent protests against the government's move, some turning violent.
There were nearly 250 stone-pelting incidents in the valley between August 5 and 22, with 220 taking place in Srinagar alone, the Times of India daily reported.
At least 56 paramilitary police were injured in the violence and around 25 vehicles were damaged, the report said.
The highest number of stone-pelting incidents recorded in Kashmir on a single day, after the end of special status, was 44 on August 6, it said.
Stone-pelting is commonly witnessed during protests in the state when mobs of youth target security forces and police deployed for crowd control.
Administrative official Rohit Kansal said scattered protests by small groups and clashes with police had resulted in injuries to several people, but they were discharged after first-aid.