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At least 40 injured as clashes erupt in Kashmir after fire hits Muslim shrine

SRINAGAR, India--A fire destroyed a revered Muslim shrine in Indian-administered Kashmir on Monday, prompting anti-government protests by residents angered over what they said was a slow response by firefighters.

At least 30 protesters and 10 police officers were injured in clashes, police said. Shops and businesses remained closed.

The cause of the fire at the 200-year-old shrine of Sheikh Abdul Qadir Jeelani in the heart of Srinagar city was not immediately known. The blaze started from the roof shortly after morning prayers and quickly engulfed the wooden structure, a police official said. He spoke on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to speak to the media.

The 11th century saint, popularly known worldwide as Ghaus-e-Azam, is buried in the Iraqi capital, Baghdad. The shrine, which held his relics, has served as an important center of Islamic and spiritual teachings in Kashmir.

“The holy relics are safe and have been retrieved,” the officer said.

Police and paramilitary soldiers laid razor wire and erected steel barricades on roads leading to the shrine where thousands of men and women had gathered, many of them wailing and crying.

Scores of firefighters tried to douse the flames, but protesters threw stones at them and burned a fire truck, saying their response was slow. Thousands of people later crowded nearby streets, chanting anti-India slogans and demanding Kashmir's freedom from Indian rule.

Clashes erupted in at least four other neighborhoods in Srinagar, with protesters throwing stones at police and officers responding by firing bullets into the air and using tear gas, the officer said.

Authorities appealed for calm and ordered a probe into the fire.

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Kashmiri residents watch as firefighters try to extinguish a fire at the nearly 200-year-old Sheikh Abdul Qadir Jeelani Shrine, popularly known as Ghaus-e-Azam, or Dastgeer Sahab, in downtown Srinagar, India, Monday, June 25.

(AP)

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