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India prevents defiant flag-raising in Kashmir

Thousands of police in Indian-controlled Kashmir prevented a Hindu nationalist party and a separatist group from raising flags for their opposing causes in a central square Wednesday to mark India's Republic Day.

Leaders of the Hindu nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party had planned to hoist the Indian flag in Lal Chowk, a Srinagar square that is a frequent site of anti-India protests.

In reaction, the Jammu Kashmir Liberation Front, a legal separatist group, said it would raise its party flag in the square.

However, a swarm of armed police sealed off the square, allowing no one in.

Republic Day commemorates India's adoption of a democratic constitution 61 years ago. India gained freedom from British colonial rule in 1947.

One BJP activist was arrested a few hundred yards (meters) from Lal Chowk after he began waving a small Indian flag, police said.

S.M. Sahai, an inspector-general of police, said six other BJP activists were arrested elsewhere in the city. IN addition, three separatist leaders were arrested as they tried to march to the square, he said.

Officials in Kashmir as well as in New Delhi had been pressing the BJP for days to drop its plans for a flag raising, fearing it would spark more violence in the troubled Himalayan region, which is divided between India and Pakistan but claimed by both.

Hundreds of members of the BJP, the main opposition party in the national Parliament, have been detained in the last two days as they tried to make their way to Srinagar.

Anti-India sentiment runs deep in Kashmir, where separatist groups are fighting for independence or merger with Pakistan.

More than 68,000 people, mostly civilians, have been killed in the region since an armed revolt erupted in 1989.

In the Pakistani portion of Kashmir, hundreds of people held an anti-India protest, demanding an end to "state terrorism" against Muslims on the Indian side. The demonstration was organized by Jamaat-ud-Dawa, widely believed to be a front for the militant group blamed for attacking Mumbai in 2008.

Protesters marched through the streets of Muzaffarabad, the capital of Pakistan-controlled Kashmir, shouting "burn the Indian parliament" and "any friend of India is a traitor." Some burned the Indian flag while others threw it on the ground and danced on it.

Jamaat-ud-Dawa chief Maulana Abdul-Aziz Alvi called India's independence "a black day" and The Associated Press that if the country wants peace, it "must give freedom to Kashmiri Muslims."

Several groups in India's restive northeast and in Indian-controlled Kashmir called general strikes to mark the day, but parades by security forces in both places were held without incident.

In New Delhi, Indonesian President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono was the chief guest at a parade by thousands of Indian soldiers displaying the country's growing military might. The parade also showcased the country's cultural heritage with thousands of young people dancing in the streets.

Security personnel turned the parade route into a fortress, allowing in only those carrying special passes.

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Associated Press writer Sebastian Abbot contributed to this report from Islamabad.