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German concert in Indian-Kashmir stays controversial

Despite ample applause at a concert given by a renowned German orchestra in Indian-controlled Kashmir, German diplomats face embarrassment. Residents in Srinagar say they were excluded from the closely guarded venue.

The head of the Bavarian State Orchestra has complained that it was "misled" into playing for only invited guests in Indian-Kashmir's main city on Saturday. The televised event had been billed by Germany's embassy as a gesture of "hope" for Kashmiris.

The heavily-guarded classical concert conducted by Indian-born Zubin Metha in the disputed Himalayan region was heard by more than 1,500 guests, including government ministers and diplomats. It was organized by the state tourism department in Indian-Kashmir and the German embassy in New Delhi and ended with an item that included local musicians.

Prior to the concert separatists opposed to India's rule of the Muslim-majority territory had called for its cancelation following several weeks of clashes between militants and Indian forces in the region.

False impression?

Nikolaus Bachler, the general manager of the orchestra told Reuters and the German news agency DPA on Sunday that the 80 musicians conducted by Zubin Mehta had been under the impression they would be playing for Kashmiri people.

"All people, with whom I spoke, said – wonderful, but why were we excluded," Bachler told DPA.

He told Reuters: "We were misled by the Germany embassy."

"The musicians, all the 80, waived the fees for Kashmiri people and not for an elite event. We didn't waive the fees for an embassy concert. Be sure this will be an issue in Germany," Bachler added.

Event defended

Indian-born Mehta and German ambassador Michael Steiner went on Indian television on Sunday to defend the staging of Saturday's concert.

Steiner told India's NDTV television channel that security considerations had been a factor in deciding how large the event should be.

"We could not at this juncture do it in a Woodstock form. The situation was not right for that," Steiner said.

Mehta said despite the controversy he still believed the concert had had a positive impact on Kashmir.

"We are not politicians. We cannot change boundaries but we can start a process of healing," Mehta said.

On Saturday, Mehta said he hoped to return to Kashmir to give a concert where "everybody can come."

Water cannon

A parallel concert of Kashmiri music organized by civil society activists ended with police firing water cannon as that audience exited shouting anti-India slogans.

Syed Ali Geelani, the leader of the separatist Hurriyat party, had slammed the German orchestral concert on Saturday as an attempt to legitimize Indian rule in Kashmir.

Extra checkpoints had been set up throughout Srinagar and police sealed all routes to the concert as part of the security. Many shops, businesses and colleges were closed. Police reportedly shot and wounded a motorist after he failed to stop.

Kashmir has been divided between India and Pakistan since their 1947 independence from Britain. Since the start of a separatist insurgency in 1989, tens of thousands of people, mainly civilians, have died.

ipj/ccp (dpa, AFP, Reuters)

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