Veteran Kashmir separatist quits secessionist alliance

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FILE PHOTO: Syed Ali Shah Geelani (C), chairman of the hardline Hurriyat (Freedom) Conference group, and his supporters attend a protest in Srinagar against the recent killings in Kashmir, July 13, 2016. REUTERS/Danish Ismail

SRINAGAR, India (Reuters) – A veteran separatist politician in Indian Kashmir quit his hardline faction within an umbrella alliance of secessionists on Monday, saying it had failed to counter New Delhi’s efforts to tighten its grip on the disputed region.

The decision of Syed Ali Shah Geelani, 90, could further weaken the separatist cause after India last August scrapped a decades-old constitutional provision giving Jammu and Kashmir state special rights.

Geelani, who has been under house arrest in the region’s largest city Srinagar for several years, accused the faction he led within the umbrella Hurriyat Conference, of inaction over New Delhi’s move in a two-page letter and short audio message.

“Keeping in view the present situation in Hurriyat Conference, I announce my decision to part ways with it,” he said, accusing members of the grouping of conspiring against him and saying it lacked discipline and accountability.

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Hurriyat leaders from his faction were not immediately available for comment.

Hurriyat Conference was formed by various separatist groups in Kashmir in 1993 to provide a political platform for seceding from India in the wake of an armed revolt against New Delhi.

But the group split in 2003 when hardliners headed by Geelani, who advocated Kashmir’s merger with Pakistan, walked out after moderates decided to hold talks with New Delhi and formed their own faction.

Both India and arch rival Pakistan claim the Himalayan region in full, but rule in parts.

Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s government said the decision last August to strip the region of its special rights and split it into two federally-administered territories was needed to better integrate it with the rest of the country.

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