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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Vajpayee Visit Sparks Kashmir Valley Strike

SRINAGAR, India -- Some 30,000 mourners joined a funeral procession for a slain Kashmiri separatist leader Wednesday, shouting demands for independence of the Himalayan province claimed by both India and Pakistan.

"We want freedom!" the mourners chanted as they slowly walked the 8 kilometers from Abdul Ghani Lone's home to Martyr's Cemetery, where he will rest alongside others who have died in a 12-year Islamic militant insurgency.

The rest of Srinagar was quiet as residents, schools and shops in the Kashmir Valley honored a call to shut down in protest of Lone's murder and the visit of Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee.

Vajpayee told Indian soldiers at the Pakistan border to prepare for a "decisive battle" against the Pakistan-supported Islamic insurgents fighting to separate Muslim-majority Kashmir from predominantly Hindu India.

Five days of shelling along the Kashmir frontier by the nuclear-armed South Asian rivals has claimed dozens of lives and raised fears of another war. Pakistan and India have fought two of their three wars over the disputed Himalayan region since gaining independence from Britain in 1947.

The shutdown was called by the All Party Hurriyat Conference, an umbrella organization of religious and political parties seeking Kashmir's independence or merger with Pakistan. Lone was a senior leader of the Hurriyat Conference and an advocate for peace and dialogue over Kashmir's future.

Lone was shot to death by marked assailants as he attended a memorial Tuesday for another separatist figure assassinated 12 years ago. He had urged Pakistan and the militants to give the region's war-shattered residents a chance to find a nonviolent way of expressing their desires for self-government.

There was no immediate claim of responsibility for Lone's murder, and the assailants got away.

Before his death, Lone had said Indian authorities had tried to kill him and that an Islamic militant group fighting to separate Kashmir from India had threatened his life.

His son, Sajjad Lone, blamed both Pakistan and the Jammu-Kashmir government for his father's death in conflicting statements. The Jammu-Kashmir and Pakistani governments also blamed each other.

India and Pakistan both claim all of Kashmir, two-thirds of which is controlled by India.

India accuses Pakistan of arming, training and financing Islamic militants, fighting since 1989 for Kashmir's independence or merger with Pakistan. Islamabad says it has no control over the militants, but supports the ideology of the "freedom fighters."