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Grand mosque re-opened months after Kashmir autonomy stripped

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Srinagar (India) (AFP)

Kashmir's main mosque re-opened for prayers Wednesday for the first time since the restive valley's semi-autonomous status was axed by New Delhi in August and a curfew imposed.

The area where the Jamia Masjid in Kashmir's main city of Srinagar is located is a hotbed of anti-Indian sentiment, with Friday prayers that attract thousands of worshippers -- often followed by street protests.

Locals believe the recent closure was the longest the 13th-century mosque had endured since Kashmir was split between India and Pakistan in 1947 after independence from Britain.

"I was sitting at home when I heard the azan (call for prayer) coming from the Jamia Masjid. I couldn't believe my ears and came running to offer prayers here for the first time in four-and-a-half months," Mohamad Iqbal, 55, told AFP.

"It feels like I'm breathing again. No doubt my happiness knows no bounds today, but the saddest thing is that the Kashmir dispute is yet to be resolved."

Some 70 worshippers were led by Mufti Ghulam Rasool in afternoon prayers inside the sprawling mosque, which can accommodate 30,000 faithful.

Before the crackdown, chief cleric and influential separatist leader Mirwaiz Umar Farooq delivered sermons and political messages at the mosque every Friday.

He is among thousands of people, including separatist leaders opposed to Indian rule, taken into custody by authorities after New Delhi's autonomy move.

Worshippers at the mosque told AFP they fear it would not be kept open for Friday prayers.

Other mosques and shrines in Muslim-majority Indian Kashmir have faced similar restrictions at different times on large gatherings during the lockdown.

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