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Singh appeals for calm in Kashmir

India's prime minister Manmohan Singh has appealed for a calm in Indian-controlled Kashmir as thousands of local Muslims marched and offered special prayers in open fields to honour those killed in the recent civil unrest.

The last two months in the volatile Himalayan region have been reminiscent of the late 1980s, when protests against New Delhi's rule sparked an armed conflict that killed more than 68,000 people, mostly civilians.

At least 51 people have died in the recent protests, most of them in firing by government forces during protests and clashes with rock-throwing demonstrators.

"The events in Kashmir over the past few weeks have caused me great pain," Mr Singh said in a televised address ahead of a meeting with pro-India political leaders from the troubled state, adding that dialogue was the only way forward.

"The cycle of violence must now come to an end. We must collectively ensure that no innocent life is lost again," he said in his first public address since the recent wave of public protests started.

But Mr Singh was circumspect about how quickly the complicated tangle of political aspirations in Indian Kashmir could be resolved.

Both factions of Kashmir's main separatist alliance, the All Parties Hurriyat Conference, dismissed the prime minister's address as "meaningless".

"We want an end to the India's military occupation of our land," said Syed Ali Shah Geelani, a key separatist leader.

In Indian Kashmir on Tuesday, thousands of residents carrying green flags marched to Khanmoh, a village south of the area's main city Srinagar, and offered prayers in a playground there. They chanted "Go India! go back" and "We want freedom" as scores of young men on motorbikes drove through the village streets.

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