Conductor Mehta urges peace ahead of Indian Kashmir concert

Renowned conductor Zubin Mehta said Friday he wants to bring peace to Indian Kashmir through music, after separatist leaders demanded a controversial concert planned for the disputed region be scrapped.

The Mumbai-born Mehta is set to go ahead with the concert in the region's main city of Srinagar on Saturday evening. It is expected to attract a 1,500-strong audience, including government ministers and diplomats.

Security is tight in Srinagar for the concert organised by the German ambassador to India, following demands from separatists for its cancellation, saying it legitimises Indian "state repression".

Mehta, a former director of the Berlin Philharmonic Orchestra, said: "We are only playing from our hearts tomorrow".

"That's all we want to do. We must never underestimate the power of inner peace that music brings," he was quoted by CNN-IBN's website as saying.

Mehta made the comments as he received a cultural harmony award on Friday from Indian President Pranab Mukherjee in a ceremony in the capital.

Mehta will conduct the Bavarian State Orchestra in works by Beethoven, Haydn and Tchaikovsky for an invited audience at the sprawling Shalimar Mughal gardens on the banks of the picturesque Dal Lake.

Hundreds of police and military were patrolling the streets of Srinagar, while metal detectors have been set up and sniffer dogs deployed near the venue, police and witnesses said.

"We have made all arrangements and taken every possible step for the smooth conduct of the function," Inspector General of Police A.G. Mir told AFP.

Separatist leader Syed Ali Geelani has called for a strike in the tense region on Saturday to protest the concert.

"International events like this held in disputed territory interfere with its status," Geelani told AFP.

"Any sort of international activity, be it political, diplomatic, cultural or sport will have an adverse effect on the disputed nature of Kashmir."

Germany's Ambassador Michael Steiner has defended the concert as "a wonderful cultural tribute to Kashmir and its warm-hearted and hospitable people".

"With the magic power of music, crossing geographical, political and cultural borders, we want to reach the hearts of the Kashmiris with a message of hope and encouragement," he said on his embassy's website.

The concert will be broadcast live on Indian and European television channels, according to the website.

Kashmir has been divided between India and Pakistan since their 1947 independence from Britain.

Rebel groups have been fighting Indian forces in Indian Kashmir since 1989 for independence or for a merger of the territory with Pakistan. The fighting has left tens of thousands of people dead.