Indian Kashmir's top separatist leader detained again

Indian Kashmir's most senior separatist leader, Syed Ali Geelani, was put under house arrest again on Saturday -- just two weeks after the end of a previous eight-month detention.

A police truck and a contingent of policemen was placed outside the 83-year-old leader's home and he was told to remain inside.

"We condemn this illegal confinement. The government was unnerved by the passionate reception I received over the last few days," Geelani told AFP from his house in Srinagar, the region's main city.

He had announced plans to address public rallies across Indian Kashmir to campaign for the right to self-determination and ask people to "boycott" state elections due next year.

There was no immediate comment from Indian authorities who often confine separatist leaders to their homes when they are worried about them leading protest rallies.

"This illegal confinement is highly condemnable. The government wants to choke us and muzzle the voice of freedom," the moderate separatist leader, Mirwaiz Umar Farooq told AFP.

As pro-India political groups also gear up for the elections, Geelani was drawing big crowds wherever he went on his anti-poll campaign.

"We won't give our vote to our enemies who suppress us," Geelani said in a recent speech to thousands of people, mostly men waving Islamic flags, who gave him a rapturous welcome in Kupwara town northwest of Srinagar.

"We're not afraid of house arrests," Geelani said.

Geelani was released from house arrest on October 29 after 263 days following pressure from critics who said he had been detained long enough.

Immediately after he was freed, Geelani hit the road, energetically addressing crowds of defiant youth.

He had last been arrested in March by Indian authorities over fears of separatist unrest following the hanging of Afzal Guru, a former Kashmiri militant convicted of helping organise arms for the deadly 2001 attack on India's parliament.

Geelani has been a thorn in India's side since the early 1960s when he began campaigning for merger of Indian-held Kashmir with Pakistan.

Over decades of campaigning against Indian rule in the Himalayan region, he was jailed for nearly 10 years in 1962 and has been restricted to his house for up to 10 months at a stretch five times in recent years.

"My life is very simple. I kept reading and writing as I always do and talked long hours with young people who were allowed to visit me," Geelani told AFP in a recent interview, describing his most recent stint under house arrest.

"It (house arrest) is nothing new to me," he said.

Nuclear-armed India and Pakistan have fought two of their three wars over Kashmir which is divided between the neighbours.

Both countries claim the Himalayan territory in full.

About a dozen rebel groups have been fighting Indian forces since 1989 for independence or a merger of the territory with Pakistan.

The fighting has left tens of thousands of people, mostly civilians, dead.

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