Geelani vowed to continue the struggle until the territory is merged with Pakistan.

"Today I vow before you that the ongoing struggle will be taken to its logical conclusion," 73-year-old Geelani told an estimated 35,000 supporters at the rally in the summer capital, Srinagar.

Geelani supports the merger of Indian-controlled Kashmir with Pakistan.

Nuclear-armed rivals India and Pakistan each hold Kashmir in part but claim it in full. They have fought two of their three wars over the region.

Self-determination

"We will achieve our goal if we strictly follow Islam," said Geelani, who heads a faction of the region's main separatist alliance, the All Parties Hurriyat Conference.

Sunday's rally was organised by Geelani's political party, Tehreek-e-Hurriyat (Movement for Freedom).

India and Pakistan have been
engaged in a peace process

Geelani repeated his opposition to autonomy for the region and to the conversion of the de facto border dividing Kashmir between the two neighbours into a permanent border.

"The only solution to resolve the dispute is to provide right of self-determination to the people of Kashmir," he said.

"The implementation of UN Security Council resolutions is the best and right way to resolve the dispute," he said of five-decade-old resolutions that would give Kashmiris a choice between India and Pakistan through a UN-held referendum.

Peace process

India says the resolutions are obselete while Pakistan says it will not insist on a vote if India shows flexibility in resolving the dispute.

The two neighbours have been engaged in a 20-month-old peace process. They have already resumed a bus service between the two zones of Kashmir.

On Saturday they took important steps towards reducing the risk of an accidental nuclear war by agreeing to set up a telephone hotline and to notify each other before testing ballistic missiles.

Geelani's supporters travelled from across the Muslim-majority Kashmir valley waving green and blue party flags. The rally was one of the biggest held by a separatist leader in recent times.