Death toll rises to 32 in religious violence in India’s capital

By Aftab Ahmed

NEW DELHI (Reuters) – At least 32 people have been killed in the deadliest violence to engulf India’s capital New Delhi for decades as a heavy deployment of security forces brought an uneasy calm on Thursday, a police official said.

The violence began over a disputed new citizenship law on Monday but led to clashes between Muslims and Hindus in which hundreds were injured. Many suffered gunshot wounds, while arson, looting and stone-throwing has also taken place.

“The death count is now at 32,” Delhi police spokesman Anil Mittal said, adding the “entire area is peaceful now.”

Men remove debris in a riot affected area following clashes between people demonstrating for and against a new citizenship law in New Delhi, India, February 27, 2020. REUTERS/Rupak De Chowdhuri

At the heart of the unrest is a citizenship law which makes it easier for non-Muslims from some neighboring Muslim-dominated countries to gain Indian citizenship.

U.N. human rights chief Michelle Bachelet said the new law adopted last December is of “great concern” and she was worried by reports of police inaction in the face of assaults against Muslims by other groups.

“I appeal to all political leaders to prevent violence,” Bachelet said in a speech to the U.N. Human Rights Council in Geneva.

Critics say the law is biased against Muslims and undermines India’s secular constitution.

Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s Hindu nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party has denied having any prejudice against India’s 180 million Muslims, saying that law is required to help persecuted minorities.

New Delhi has been the epicenter for protests against the new law, with students and large sections of the Muslim community leading the protests.

As the wounded were brought to hospitals on Thursday, the focus shifted on the overnight transfer of Justice S. Muralidhar, a Delhi High Court judge who was hearing a petition into the riots and had criticized government and police inaction on Wednesday.

Law minister Ravi Shankar Prasad said the transfer was routine and had been recommended by the Supreme Court collegium earlier this month.

Opposition Congress party leader Manish Tiwari said every lawyer and judge in India should strongly protest what he called a crude attempt to intimidate the judiciary.

Information and Broadcasting Minister Prakash Javadekar said inflammatory speeches at the protests over the new citizenship law in the last few months and the tacit support of some opposition leaders was behind the violence.

“The investigation is on,” he said.

Prime Minister Narendra Modi, who romped to re-election last May, also withdrew Jammu and Kashmir’s autonomy in August with the objective of tightening New Delhi’s grip on the restive region, which is also claimed by full by Pakistan.

For months the government imposed severe restrictions in Kashmir including cutting telephone and internet lines, while keeping hundreds of people, including mainstream political leaders, in custody for fear that they could whip up mass protests. Some restrictions have since been eased.

Bachelet said the Indian government continued to impose excessive restrictions on the use of social media in the region, even though some political leaders have been released, and ordinary life may be returning to normal in some respects.

(Reporting by Aftab Ahmed; Editing by Mark Heinrich)

Trump returns to U.S. as country warily eyes spread of coronavirus

By Steve Holland and Susan Heavey

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – President Donald Trump returned to Washington on Wednesday to face increasing concerns over the coronavirus as U.S. public health officials warned Americans to prepare for a possible outbreak and financial markets remained on edge.

Trump, back from a 2-day visit to India, said on Twitter that he would meet with U.S. officials for a briefing on the coronavirus later on Wednesday and hold a news conference.

Dr. Anthony Fauci, the head of the National Institute of Allergy and Infections Diseases who will brief the president, said while the virus is contained in the United States, Americans need to get ready for a potential outbreak.

As person-to-person transmissions spread in other countries outside of China, including South Korea, Japan, Italy and Iran, the coronavirus is likely to spread further, he said.

“Things are stable here … and at the same time we need to be ready to do things to contain an outbreak if it were to occur, Fauci told CNN in an interview.

Officials at the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), in a shift, on Tuesday said the virus’ march across the globe had raised concern about community spread in the United States, even as it remained unclear if and when that might happen, or how severe it might be.

The Republican president has been largely out of Washington since Feb. 18, first visiting a string of western U.S. states before heading off to India.

During his travels, he praised U.S. health officials while publicly downplaying the possible spread of the virus and its impact on financial markets, saying he hopes it will disappear with the arrival of warmer spring weather in the United States.

Trump has been increasingly alarmed at the drop in the stock market, which he considers a key barometer of economic health.

He has repeatedly touted his administration’s decision to bar foreign travelers who had been to China within the virus’ 14-day incubation period and to funnel flights from China to specific airports for screenings.

CDC officials, who Trump said would be at the 6 p.m. (2300 GMT) White House news conference, have advised Americans to not visit China and South Korea, and to exercise caution when traveling to Japan, Italy or Iran.

The CDC is also considering expanding airport screenings to target passengers from countries that have seen a recent spike in cases such as Italy and South Korea, NBC News reported, citing the agency.

Meanwhile, the Trump administration is seeking $2.5 billion from Congress to boost its virus response, but Democrats have warned that amount falls far short of what is needed.

Both Republican and Democratic lawmakers grilled two top Trump officials – Health Secretary Alex Azar and Homeland Security Secretary Chad Wolf – about the nation’s readiness on Tuesday. House lawmakers will also hear from Fauci, Azar and other officials at a budget hearing Wednesday afternoon.

Trump’s request also included $1 billion for a vaccine, something Fauci told CNN was in development but would take at least 18 months “at best” to come to market.

(Reporting by Steve Holland and Susan Heavey; additional reporting by Makini Brice; Editing by Chizu Nomiyama)

After raucous welcome in India, Trump clinches $3 billion military equipment sale

By Steve Holland and Aftab Ahmed

NEW DELHI (Reuters) – U.S. President Donald Trump said on Tuesday that India will buy $3 billion worth of military equipment, including attack helicopters, as the two countries deepen defense and commercial ties in an attempt to balance the weight of China in the region.

India and the United States were also making progress on a big trade deal, Trump said. Negotiators from the two sides have wrangled for months to narrow differences on farm goods, medical devices, digital trade and new tariffs.

Trump was accorded a massive reception in Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s home state on Monday, with more than 100,000 people filling into a cricket stadium for a “Namaste Trump” rally.

On Tuesday, Trump sat down for one-on-one talks with Modi followed by delegation-level meetings to try and move forward on issues that have divided them, mainly the festering trade dispute.

After those meetings, Trump said his visit had been productive with the conclusion of deals to buy helicopters for the Indian military. India is buying 24 SeaHawk helicopters from Lockheed Martin equipped with Hellfire missiles worth $2.6 billion and also plans a follow-on order for six Apache helicopters.

India is modernizing its military to narrow the gap with China and has increasingly turned to the United States over traditional supplier, Russia.

Trump said the two countries were also making progress on a trade deal, which had been an area of growing friction between them.

“Our teams have made tremendous progress on a comprehensive trade agreement and I’m optimistic we can reach a deal that will be of great importance to both countries,” said Trump in remarks made alongside Modi.

The two countries had initially planned to produce a “mini deal”, but that proved elusive.

Instead both sides are now aiming for a bigger package, including possibly a free trade agreement.

Trump said he also discussed with Modi, whom he called his “dear friend”, the importance of a secure 5G telecoms network in India, ahead of a planned airwaves auction by the country.

The United States has banned Huawei, arguing the use of its kit creates the potential for espionage by China – a claim denied by Huawei and Beijing – but India, where telecoms companies have long used network gear from the Chinese firm, is yet to make a call.

Trump described Monday’s rally in Ahmedabad and again praised Modi and spoke of the size of the crowd, claiming there were “thousands of people outside trying to get in..

“I would even imagine they were there more for you than for me, I would hope so,” he told Modi. “The people love you…every time I mentioned your name, they would cheer.”

In New Delhi, Trump was given a formal state welcome on Tuesday at the red sandstone presidential palace with a 21-cannon gun salute and a red coated honor guard on horseback on a smoggy day.

HUG GETS TIGHTER

India is one of the few big countries in the world where Trump’s personal approval rating is above 50% and Trump’s trip has got wall-to-wall coverage with commentators saying he had hit all the right notes on his first official visit to the world’s biggest democracy.

They were also effusive in their praise for Modi for pulling off a spectacular reception for Trump.

“Modi-Trump hug gets tighter,” ran a headline in the Times of India.

But in a sign of the underlying political tensions in India, violent protests broke out in Delhi on Monday over a new citizenship law that critics say discriminates against Muslims and is a further attempt to undermine the secular foundations of India’s democracy. They say the law is part of a pattern of divisiveness being followed by Modi’s Hindu nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party.

At least 7 people were killed and about 150 injured in the clashes that took place in another part of the capital, away from the center of the city where Modi is hosting Trump.

In his speech on Monday, Trump extolled India’s rise as a stable and prosperous democracy as one of the achievements of the century. “You have done it as a tolerant country. And you have done it as a great, free country,” he said.

Delhi has also been struggling with high air pollution and on Tuesday the air quality was moderately poor at 193 on a government index that measures pollution up to a scale of 500. The WHO considers anything above 60 as unhealthy.

(Reporting by Steve Holland, Aftab Ahmed, Neha Dasgupta; Writing by Sanjeev Miglani Editing by Raju Gopalakrishnan)

Trump: No election help wanted or received from any country

NEW DELHI (Reuters) – U.S. President Donald Trump said on Tuesday that no country was trying to help him win the November election, after a top intelligence official told lawmakers Russia was interfering in the 2020 presidential vote to help Trump win a second term.

“I want no help from any country and I haven’t been given help from any country,” Trump told reporters at a news briefing as he concluded a two-day visit to India.

After the congressional briefing, Trump ousted the acting intelligence chief, Joseph Maguire, and replaced him with a political loyalist.

At the news conference, Trump denied reports that Maguire had been ousted from the top spy job, saying he needed to be replaced because of “statute.”

Trump has said he will announce his pick soon for the job, which requires Senate confirmation.

The U.S. intelligence community concluded that Russia had meddled in the 2016 election, though Moscow has denied the assessments. Trump, who is sensitive to doubts over the legitimacy of his win, has questioned those findings and repeatedly criticized American intelligence agencies.

U.S. officials have also said recently that Russia has been mounting disinformation and propaganda campaigns to help Vermont Senator Bernie Sanders, who is seeking the Democratic presidential nomination in this year’s election.

The United States would act against Russia or any other country if they tried “to undermine our democratic processes,” U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo told reporters in Washington.

He did not provide details on what responses Washington would consider, or what kind of activities by foreign actors would solicit a U.S. retaliation.

(Reporting by Steve Holland; Additional reporting by Humeyra Pamuk in Washington; Writing by Makini Brice; Editing by Alex Richardson and Bernadette Baum)

‘Namaste Trump’: Modi holds huge rally for president’s visit

By Steve Holland and Alasdair Pal

AHMEDABAD, India (Reuters) – Donald Trump was cheered by more than 100,000 Indians at the opening of the world’s largest cricket stadium on Monday, promising “an incredible trade deal” and “the most feared military equipment on the planet” at his biggest rally abroad.

Indians wore cardboard Trump masks and “Namaste Trump” hats to welcome the U.S. president at the huge new Motera stadium in Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s own political homeland, the western city of Ahmedabad.

Modi, a nationalist who won re-election last year and has shifted his country firmly to the right with policies that his critics decry as authoritarian and ethnically divisive, touts his relationship with Trump as proof of his own global standing.

U.S. officials have described Trump’s visit as a way to counter China’s rise as a superpower.

“You have done a great honor to our country. We will remember you forever, from this day onwards India will always hold a special place in our hearts,” Trump said to thunderous applause.

India is one of the few big countries in world where Trump’s personal approval rating is above 50%. It has built up ties with the United States in recent years as Washington’s relationship has become strained with India’s foe Pakistan.

“As we continue to build our defense cooperation, the United States looks forward to providing India with some of the best and most feared military equipment on the planet,” Trump said.

Trump said the two countries will sign deals on Tuesday to sell military helicopters worth $3 billion and that the United States must become the premier defense partner of India, which relied on Russian equipment during the Cold War. Reuters reported earlier that India has cleared the purchase of 24 helicopters from Lockheed Martin <LMT.N> worth $2.6 billion.

But in a sign of the underlying political tensions in India, violent protests broke out in Delhi – where Trump is due on Tuesday – over a new citizenship law that critics say discriminates against Muslims and is a further attempt to undermine the secular foundations of India’s democracy.

Vehicles were set on fire in the eastern part of Delhi, metal barricades torn down, and thick smoke billowed through the air as thousands of those who are supporting the new law clashed with those opposing it.

In his speech Trump extolled India’s rise as a stable and prosperous democracy as one of the achievements of the century. “You have done it as a tolerant country. And you have done it as a great, free country,” he said.

Trump planned to raise the issue of religious freedoms in India with Modi, an administration official said last week.

People leave the Sardar Patel Stadium after U.S. President Donald Trump and Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi addressed a “Namaste Trump” event in Ahmedabad, India, February 24, 2020. REUTERS/Adnan Abidi

VERY BIG DEALS

In Ahmedabad, Modi embraced Trump as he stepped off Air Force One, along with his wife, Melania.

Folk dancers carrying colorful umbrellas danced alongside the red carpet as drummers, trumpeters and other musicians performed at the airport to welcome Trump and the U.S. delegation. Crowds lined the route along his cavalcade, many taking pictures on their phones.

The two sides did not manage to hammer out a trade deal ahead of the visit, with differences remaining over agriculture, medical devices, digital trade and proposed new tariffs. Trump said he was going to discuss economic ties with Modi, describing him as a tough negotiator.

“We will be making very, very major, among the biggest ever made, trade deals. We are in the early stages of discussion for an incredible trade agreement to reduce barriers of investment between the United States and India,” he said.

“And I am optimistic that working together, the prime minister and I can reach a fantastic deal that’s good and even great for both of our countries – except that he is a very tough negotiator.”

Modi, who has built a personal rapport with Trump, is pulling out the stops for the president although prospects for even a limited trade deal during the visit are seen as slim.

“There is so much that we share, shared values and ideals … shared opportunities and challenges, shared hopes and aspirations,” said Modi at the rally.

Trump, who faces his own re-election campaign this year, has frequently praised Modi for his crowd-pulling power.

Last year, Trump held a “Howdy Modi” rally with Modi in Houston, drawing 50,000 people, mainly Indian Americans. At the time, Trump likened Modi to Elvis Presley as a draw for crowds.

Later, Trump and his entourage which includes daughter Ivanka and son-in-law Jared Kushner flew to Agra to see the Taj Mahal at sunset. Children lined the route cheering and waving flags as his convoy drove past.

Trump and Melania posed for pictures at the Taj, the 17th century monument to love. “It’s incredible,” he told reporters.

(Additional reporting by Neha Dasgupta, Euan Rocha in New Delhi, Zeba Siddiqui in Agra; Writing by Sanjeev Miglani; Editing by Raju Gopalakrishnan, Giles Elgood and Peter Graff)

More evictions feared in India as citizenship law is enforced

By Rina Chandran

MUMBAI (Thomson Reuters Foundation) – Days after nearly 200 homes were demolished in an informal settlement in the southern Indian city of Bengaluru, human rights groups and slum dwellers said they expected more such evictions as a new citizenship law is enforced in the country.

Police and municipal officials said the homes were built illegally on state land, and that residents were undocumented migrants from Bangladesh.

The residents said they were migrants from other Indian states, and that they were evicted without any notice.

The Karnataka state high court has prohibited further evictions, and asked the municipal corporation and the police to respond to its queries on the eviction by Jan. 29.

Human rights groups said it was an outcome of tensions around India’s new citizenship law, which came into effect on Jan. 10 and lays out a path for citizenship for six religious minorities in neighbouring mostly-Muslim countries – Pakistan, Afghanistan and Bangladesh.

Critics say that the omission of Muslims is discriminatory, and that the Citizenship Amendment Act (CAA), as well as a planned National Register of Citizens (NRC), target poor Muslims and others who do not have sufficient documentation.

Migrant workers are particularly vulnerable, as they often live in informal settlements, said Isaac Selva, founder of Slum Jagatthu, a non-profit magazine on slum dwellers in Bangalore.

“Bangalore is full of migrant workers, and a large number of daily wage workers tend to live in slums. Not everyone has ID papers,” he told the Thomson Reuters Foundation.

“We think more such evictions will take place because of the CAA and NRC, because authorities are being told these people do not have a right to be here.”

Nearly 2 million people – including Hindus – were left off a list of citizens released in Assam last year for failing to have adequate documentation, after a years-long exercise to check illegal immigration from Bangladesh.

On Wednesday, India’s top court gave Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s government four weeks to respond to 144 petitions challenging the constitutional validity of the Citizenship Amendment Act, which has ignited protests across the country.

“A large majority of people living homeless and in informal settlements do not have government-issued documents,” said Shivani Chaudhry, executive director of non-profit Housing and Land Rights Network in Delhi.

“The current climate in the country has fuelled fears that the lack of adequate documents among large sections of India’s urban and rural poor could lead to evictions and destruction of their homes and property,” she said.

The rapid growth of Indian cities, combined with unclear land ownership, has triggered the forced eviction of poorer communities over the last two decades, human rights groups say.

At least 11 million people in India risk being uprooted from their homes and land as authorities build highways and airports and upgrade cities, according to HLRN, which said more than 200,000 people were forcefully evicted in 2018.

There are no official figures on evictions.

(Reporting by Rina Chandran @rinachandran; Editing by Zoe Tabary. Please credit the Thomson Reuters Foundation, the charitable arm of Thomson Reuters, that covers humanitarian news, women’s and LGBT+ rights, human trafficking, property rights, and climate change. Visit http://news.trust.org)

World welcomes new year amid wildfires and protests

By Swati Pandey, Jessie PANG and Twinnie Siu

SYDNEY/HONG KONG (Reuters) – The world rang in the new year on Wednesday with spectacular firework displays from Sydney to Tokyo, though celebrations in Australia were overshadowed by deadly wildfires and the festive mood in Hong Kong and India was dampened by protests.

Around a million revellers thronged Sydney harbour and nearby districts to watch more than 100,000 fireworks explode above the city, even as thousands of people along Australia’s eastern seaboard sought refuge from the bushfires on beaches.

Hong Kong cancelled its popular New Year’s Eve fireworks in Victoria Harbour due to security concerns as protesters formed giant human chains and marched through shopping malls, vowing to continue to fight for democracy in 2020.

Thousands of Indians also planned to greet the new year with protests, angered by a citizenship law that they say will discriminate against Muslims and chip away at India’s secular constitution.

Sydney decided to press ahead with its fireworks display despite calls by some members of the public for it to be cancelled in solidarity with fire-hit areas in New South Wales, of which the city is the capital.

Sydney mayor Clover Moore said planning had begun 15 months ago and that the event also gave a boost to the economy.

Some other towns in eastern Australia cancelled their new year celebrations as naval vessels and military helicopters helped firefighters to rescue people fleeing the fires, which have turned swathes of New South Wales into a raging furnace.

The fires have killed at least 11 people since October, two of them overnight into Tuesday, destroyed more than 4 million hectares (10 million acres) and left many towns and rural areas without electricity or mobile coverage.

Some tourists trapped in Australia’s coastal towns posted images of blood-red, smoke-filled skies on social media. One beachfront photograph showed people lying shoulder-to-shoulder on the sand, some wearing gas masks.

Elsewhere, revellers from Auckland in New Zealand to Pyongyang, capital of isolated North Korea, welcomed the new year with firework displays. In Japan, people took turns to strike Buddhist temple bells, in accordance with tradition.

NOT FIREWORKS BUT TEAR GAS

In Hong Kong, rocked by months of sometimes violent pro-democracy demonstrations, protesters were urged to wear masks at a New Year rally called “Don’t forget 2019 – Persist in 2020”, according to social media posts.

A “Symphony of Lights” was planned instead of the firework display, involving projections on the city’s tallest skyscrapers after a countdown to midnight.

“This year there are no fireworks, but there will probably be tear gas somewhere,” said 25-year-old IT worker Sam. “For us it’s not really New Year’s Eve. We have to resist every day.”

Some 6,000 police were deployed and Chief Executive Carrie Lam appealed for calm and reconciliation in her New Year’s Eve video message.

The protests began in June in response to a now-withdrawn bill that would have allowed extraditions to mainland China, where courts are controlled by the Communist Party, and have evolved into a broader pro-democracy movement.

In India, protesters angry about Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s new citizenship law planned demonstrations on Tuesday evening in the capital New Delhi, in the grip of its second coldest winter in more than a century, as well as the financial hub Mumbai and other cities.

(Reporting by bureaux in Sydney, Hong Kong and New Delhi; Writing by Gareth Jones; Editing by Mike Collett-White and Kevin Liffey)

Thousands defy ban on protests against Indian citizenship law

By Devjyot Ghoshal and Shilpa Jamkhandikar

NEW DELHI/MUMBAI (Reuters) – Hundreds of Indians held for defying a ban on demonstrating against a disputed new citizenship law continued protests in police detention on Thursday, and authorities shut down the internet for hours to help enforce bans on public gatherings.

Public anger and staunch opposition from political parties over the new legislation widely considered to be discriminatory toward Muslims has flared across the country.

Marches and rallies organized by college students, academicians, minority Muslim groups and opposition parties against the law passed by the Hindu nationalist government persisted despite legal moves to stifle them.

In the financial capital Mumbai, more than 5,000 protesters gathered on Thursday evening, forcing the police to impose traffic restrictions.

Haroon Patel, an Indian citizen who lives in London, joined the protest in Mumbai, calling the new law the first step toward dictatorship. “We have to save the country,” said Patel.

Supporters of the bill also took to the streets in the major western state of Gujarat. “The fault lines are defined – either one supports the law or stands against (it)…Indians have to decide and protest,” said Rupak Doshi, who organized a large rally in support of the law in Gujarat’s main city Ahmedabad.

Police detained hundreds of people in Delhi and the southern city of Bengaluru on Thursday and shut down the internet in some districts as protests entered a second week over a law that critics say undermines India’s secular constitution.

Yogi Adityanath, a senior leader of Modi’s party and Uttar Pradesh state chief minister, accused many protesters of indulging in violence. “People are allowed to protest, but no one is allowed to break the law,” said Adityanath.

In the eastern state of Bihar, a senior police official said more than 200 protesters detained in a police campus in Patna were chanting slogans against the law, but they would not be silenced by force.

FLIGHTS CANCELED

Dozens of airline flights out of Delhi were canceled due to a lack of staff who were held up by traffic disruptions caused by protesters, and a number of Delhi metro stations closed.

A senior home ministry official said maintaining law and order was a state responsibility but reserve forces were ready to provide immediate assistance.

Rights group Amnesty International has asked federal and state governments to stop the crackdown on peaceful protests against what it called a “discriminatory” citizenship law.

Defying the bans, protesters held rallies at Delhi’s historic Red Fort and a town hall in Bengaluru, but police rounded up people in the vanguard of those demonstrations as they tried to get underway.

In Bengaluru, Ramchandra Guha, a respected historian and intellectual, was taken away by police along with several other professors, according to an aide. “I am protesting non-violently, but look, they are stopping us,” said Guha.

Police said they had detained around 200 people in the city, where protest organizers said thousands attended four demonstrations on Thursday.

PM MODI UNMOVED

Prime Minister Narendra Modi has dug his heels in over the law that lays out a path for people from minority religions in neighboring Muslim states – Afghanistan, Bangladesh and Pakistan – who settled in India before 2015 to obtain Indian citizenship.

Opponents of the law say the exclusion of Muslims betrays a deep-seated bias against the community, which makes up 14% of India’s population, and that the law is the latest move by the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party to marginalize them.

Discontent with Modi’s government has burst into the open after a series of moves seen as advancing a Hindu-first agenda in a country that has long celebrated its diversity and secular constitution.

Internet and text messaging services were suspended by government order in parts of Delhi on Thursday, mobile carriers said, widening a communications clampdown in restive areas stretching from disputed Kashmir to the northeast.

The outage affecting services provided by Vodafone Idea VODA.NS and Bharti Airtel BRTI.NS resumed around 1 p.m. (0730 GMT) after a four-hour interruption, they said.

(Additional reporting by Chandini Monappa and Nivedita Bhattacharjee in Bengaluru, Neha Dasgupta, Aditi Shah in New Delhi, Saurabh Sharma in Lucknow, Zarir Hussain in Guwahati, Rupam Jain in Mumbai, Amit Dave in Ahmedabad Writing by Aftab Ahmed, Sanjeev Miglani and Rupam Jain; Editing by Simon Cameron-Moore and Mark Heinrich)

Police and protesters clash in Indian capital over citizenship law

Police and protesters clash in Indian capital over citizenship law
By Devjyot Ghoshal

NEW DELHI (Reuters) – Police fired shots in the air as thousands of protesters took to the streets on Tuesday in the latest clashes in the Indian capital over a new law that makes it easier for non-Muslims from neighboring countries to gain citizenship.

Nationwide opposition to the Citizenship Amendment Act – which offers a path to Indian citizenship for religious minorities from Afghanistan, Bangladesh and Pakistan – has grown since last week, but Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s government appears to have dug in its heels.

“Both my government and I are firm like a rock that we will not budge or go back on the citizenship protests,” Home Minister Amit Shah told the Times Network, which runs TV channels, in an interview.

But critics say the law weakens India’s secular foundations since it does not apply to Muslims, who have been coming out on to the streets in increasing numbers against the legislation.

In Delhi’s Seelampur area, police fired shots in the air and lobbed more than 60 rounds of tear gas to beat back thousands of people protesting against the new law.

Police officer Rajendra Prasad Meena said the demonstration spiraled out of control after some protesters started throwing stones at policemen who were holding them at a barricade.

“Then the situation worsened and we had to fire tear gas,” he said, adding that police fired rounds in the air once to push back the violent mob.

An official at the nearby Jag Pravesh Chandra Hospital said it had received around 10 people, including policemen, with injuries sustained during the protest. Most were discharged, and two referred elsewhere.

Cars were damaged and a wide road strewn with rocks while two motorbikes were set on fire, sending thick smoke into the air.

Groups of youths, some with their faces covered, threw bricks, stones and bottles at police, who retaliated with tear gas and baton charges.

Sahil, a protestor who gave only one name, said the new law had to be withdrawn. “It is against the constitution,” he said, holding up a hand-written poster as the large crowd began dispersing.

Mohammad Daud, the imam of a local mosque who helped calm the confrontation, said it began as a protest against the new citizenship law.

“We should protest against it, and we will protest against it. Neither is this a fight against the police, or a Hindu-Muslim issue. We only have a problem with the government,” Daud said.

‘GUERRILLA POLITICS’

There have been growing questions about the stance of the government, led by Modi’s Hindu-nationalist party, toward India’s 172 million Muslims, who make up 14% of the population.

The citizenship law follows the revocation of the special status of the Muslim-majority Kashmir region, and a court ruling clearing the way for the construction of a Hindu temple on the site of a mosque razed by Hindu zealots.

Pakistani Prime Minister Imran Khan said India’s actions in Kashmir and on the citizenship law could drive Muslims from India and create a refugee crisis.

“We are worried there not only could be a refugee crisis, we are worried it could lead to a conflict between two nuclear-armed countries,” Khan told a Global Forum on Refugees in Geneva.

India’s Foreign Ministry said Khan was spreading “falsehoods”.

“Over the past 72 years, the Islamic Republic of Pakistan has systematically persecuted all of its minorities, forcing most of them to flee to India,” ministry spokesman Raveesh Kumar said.

Anger with the Indian government was stoked this week by allegations of police brutality at Delhi’s Jamia Millia Islamia university on Sunday, when officers entered the campus and fired tear gas to break up a protest.

At least 100 people were wounded in the crackdown which has drawn criticism from rights groups.

Modi told a rally for a state election on Tuesday that his political rivals were trying to mislead students and others to stir up protests.

“This is guerrilla politics, they should stop doing this.”

(Additional reporting by Stephanie Nebehay in GENEVA and Promit Mukherjee in MUMBAI; Writing by Sanjeev Miglani; Editing by Robert Birsel and Giles Elgood)

Protests erupt as India pushes for religion-based citizenship bill

Protests erupt as India pushes for religion-based citizenship bill
By Zarir Hussain and Abhirup Roy

GUWAHATI/MUMBAI (Reuters) – Hundreds of protesters took to the streets in India on Monday as Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s government offered a controversial bill in parliament that would give citizenship to non-Muslim minorities from three neighboring countries.

Home Minister Amit Shah introduced the Citizenship Amendment Bill (CAB) in India’s lower house amid raucous debate. Opposition parties stood against the proposed law that would, for the first time, create a legal pathway to grant Indian nationality on the basis of religion.

The bill was originally introduced in 2016 during the Modi government’s first term but lapsed after protests and an alliance partner’s withdrawal. It proposes to grant Indian citizenship to non-Muslims who came to India from Bangladesh, Pakistan and Afghanistan before 2015.

Oppositions politicians inside parliament, and protesters in several Indian cities, said the bill discriminated against Muslims and violated India’s secular constitution.

Shah and Modi’s ruling Bharatiya Janata Party, which had included the CAB as part of its manifesto in the last general election, insist that it is necessary.

“In these three countries, Hindus, Buddhists, Sikhs, Jains, Parsis and Christians, followers of these six religions have been tormented,” Shah said, before the bill was tabled after a vote.

‘LAST DROP OF BLOOD’

But protesters returned to the streets in Assam – one of India’s remote northeastern states that had previously opposed the bill – and blocked roads, burnt tyres and painted walls with slogans against the new proposal.

Student groups called for dawn-to-dusk shutdown in four districts of the state. Shops, businesses, educational and financial institutions remained shut and public transport stayed off the roads.

“We will fight and oppose the bill till the last drop of our blood,” All Assam Students’ Union adviser Samujjal Bhattacharya told Reuters, underlining the region’s resistance against migrants amid fears that tens of thousands of settlers from neighboring Bangladesh would gain citizenship.

In Modi’s home state of Gujarat and the eastern city of Kolkata, hundreds of people staged protests and marched against the proposed law.

In a statement issued on Monday, a group of more than 1,000 Indian scientists and scholars also called for the immediate withdrawal of the bill.

“We fear, in particular, that the careful exclusion of Muslims from the ambit of the bill will greatly strain the pluralistic fabric of the country,” the statement said.

After going through the lower house of parliament, where BJP has a majority, the bill has to be passed by the upper house, where the ruling party enough votes. Any bill needs to be ratified by both houses of India’s parliament to become law.

“Please save this country from this law and save the home minister,” Asaduddin Owaisi, an opposition MP from the All India Majlis-e-Ittehadul Muslimeen party, told parliament.

(Reporting by Zarir Hussain in Guwahati and Abhirup Roy in Mumbain; additional reporting by Rupak De Chowdhuri in Kolkata and Sumit Khanna in Ahmedabad; editing by Devjyot Ghoshal, Larry King)