Security tightened for Mehta concert in Kashmir

Indian troops stepped up security in disputed Kashmir's main city of Srinagar on Saturday, ahead of a concert to be held later in the day by celebrated conductor Zubin Mehta.

Organisers said the concert would go ahead despite demands by Indian Kashmiri separatists for the event to be cancelled on grounds it would allegedly legitimise Indian "state repression" in the restive region.

The concert by Mumbai-born Mehta, organised by Indian Kashmir's state tourism department and the German embassy in New Delhi, is expected draw 1,500 invited guests, including ministers and diplomats.

"As many as 25 (security) checkpoints have been erected in the city," to maintain law and order, a Kashmir state government official told AFP on condition of anonymity.

Mehta, 77, a former director of the Berlin Philharmonic Orchestra, will conduct the Bavarian State Orchestra in works by Beethoven, Haydn and Tchaikovsky.

Mehta said Friday the orchestra would be "playing from our hearts".

"That's all we want to do. We must never underestimate the power of inner peace that music brings," he said.

The event will be held in the sprawling Shalimar Mughal gardens under the mighty Chinar trees on the banks of the picturesque Dal Lake in Srinagar.

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

Shops, businesses, schools and colleges were shut in several Kashmir cities while buses stayed off roads as a precaution against possible violence.

Kashmir chief minister Omar Abdullah called the concert a "big event" for Kashmir and accused the separatists of hypocrisy for demanding Mehta's performance be scrapped.

"If music is against the issue of Kashmir, how come Junoon came and performed here," said Abdullah, referring to a Pakistani band which performed in Srinagar in 2008.

Human rights groups said they plan to stage a parallel event billed Haqeet-e-Kashmir -- Reality of Kashmir -- but organiser Khurram Parvez said they were facing problems.

"We planned to erect a tent here but the people have not been allowed in," Parvez, a rights activist, said.

"After granting us permission for the event, it seems the state is deliberately creating hassles for the civilian movement," he added.

Organisers say they planned to highlight alleged rights violations by security troops in Indian Kashmir, where thousands of people have died since the start of a separatist insurgency in 1989.

Police, meanwhile, said four men were shot dead earlier Saturday in the town of Shopian by Indian troops.

Local media said the men were suspected of attempting to attack a security camp.

Officials would not immediately comment on the reports.

Residents described the men as civilians and said troops shot them as they rode past the security camp on a motorcycle.

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

Not all Kashmiris oppose the concert.

"It's a lifetime opportunity to listen to timeless music live," art critic Lalit Gupta told AFP recently.

Kashmir has been relatively calm in recent years but there have been new, deadly outbreaks of violence along the contested border between Indian and Pakistani forces.