Curfew in Kashmir town after Muslim-Buddhist clash

Reuters, Feb 10, 2006

SRINAGAR, India -- Authorities imposed a curfew for the second straight day on Friday in a mountain town in Indian Kashmir following clashes between Buddhists and Muslims sparked by allegations a Koran was desecrated, police said.

They said soldiers and policemen patrolled the deserted streets of Leh town in Kashmir's Buddhist-dominated Ladakh region, WHICH IS 434-km (270 miles) east of Srinagar, the summer capital of Jammu and Kashmir, India's only Muslim-majority state.

The clashes erupted on Wednesday after torn pages of the Koran were found scattered by the road in Leh, police said.

Several houses and cars were burnt in the violence, but no injuries were reported.

Muslims alleged Buddhists were responsible for the alleged desecration, but police said they were investigating the incident.

Over two dozen people have been detained for questioning by police, and authorities have called for a meeting of Buddhist priests and Muslim clerics.

"We are trying to calm tensions down and security has been beefed up across the district," senior police officer K. Rajindra said.

But in neighbouring Kargil district on Friday, dozens of Muslim protesters set fire to the house of a police officer.

Jammu and Kashmir also has a sizeable Buddhist population in Ladakh and a majority Hindu population in the Jammu region, neither of which supports the separatist revolt by Muslim militants against New Delhi's rule in the rest of the state.

Relations between Buddhists and Muslims in Leh and Kargil have been strained over minor disputes -- clashes have erupted because a girl from one community eloped with a boy of the other community.