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Police fire tear gas as Delhi protesters vent anger at citizenship law

  • Published at 12:22 am December 16th, 2019
Demonstrators hurl stones towards police (unseen) during a protest against a new citizenship law, in New Delhi, India on Sunday, December 15, 2019 Reuters

On Sunday, protesters in South Delhi, including locals and students from Jamia Milia University, torched some buses, cars and two wheelers

Indian police fired tear gas to disperse hundreds of demonstrators who were torching vehicles in New Delhi yesterday as protests against a new citizenship law continued for a fifth straight day across the country.

Prime Minister Narendra Modi's government says the new law will save religious minorities such as Hindus and Christians from persecution in neighbouring Bangladesh, Pakistan and Afghanistan by offering them a path to Indian citizenship. But critics say the law, which does not make the same provision for Muslims, weakens India's secular foundations.

The law's enactment on December 11 has stirred up protests across India, but the eastern part of the country, where resentment towards Bangladeshi immigrants has persisted for decades, has been among the worst hit. There have been demonstrations in the Indian capital since Friday.

On Sunday, protesters in South Delhi, including locals and students from Jamia Milia University, torched some buses, cars and two wheelers.

A Reuters witness said police resorted to baton charges and firing tear gas on the protesters to disperse them.

Some injured protesters were taken to a nearby hospital, according to the Reuters witness, but police have not given injury toll figures.

Sunil Choudhary, deputy chief fire officer said four buses had been torched in South Delhi area and two firefighters injured.

Delhi fire service department has sent four fire engines to the location, Choudhary said. "Roads are blocked we are unable to take the injured to the hospital," he told Reuters.

At close to 7.30pm local time, Delhi police said the situation was under control.

Internet services suspended

Meanwhile, protests against the Act continued in parts of eastern India. A highway connecting the states of West Bengal and Assam was blocked in several places yesterday when protesters, demanding the law be scrapped, burnt tyres.

Internet services have been suspended in parts of West Bengal. State Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee in an address to the people urged for peace and warned that a "section of people are trying to take advantage of the situation and incite communal disharmony."

Death toll rise to 6

Angry protesters in northeast India vowed yesterday to keep demonstrating as the death toll from bloody clashes opposing the bill rose to six.

Tension remained high at the epicentre of the unrest in Assam state's biggest city, Guwahati, with troops patrolling the streets amid tight security.

In Assam, four people died after being shot by police, while another was killed when a shop he was sleeping in was set on fire and a sixth after he was beaten up during a protest, officials said.

Some 5,000 people took part in a fresh demonstration in the city yesterday, with hundreds of police watching as they sang, chanted and carried banners with the words "long live Assam."

Officials said oil and gas production in the state were hit by the curfew, although the restrictions were eased during the day on Sunday with some shops opening.

Calls for calm 

Prime Minister Narendra Modi blamed the opposition Congress party for the violence.

"To give respect to those who fled to India and were forced to live as refugees, both houses of parliament passed the Citizenship Amendment Bill," he said yesterday at a rally in eastern Jharkhand state.

"Congress and its allies are stoking fire over the Citizenship Act but people of northeast have rejected violence... They (Congress supporters) are resorting to arson because they did not get their way."

Home Minister Amit Shah yesterday called again for calm, saying local cultures in northeastern states were not under threat.

"Culture, language, social identity and political rights of our brothers and sisters from northeast will remain intact," Shah added in Jharkhand, News18 television network reported him as saying.

Legal challenges  

For Islamic groups, the opposition, rights activists and others in India, the new law is seen as part of Modi's Hindu-nationalist agenda to marginalise India's 200 million Muslims. 

Rights groups and a Muslim political party are challenging the law in the Supreme Court, arguing that it is against the constitution and India's secular traditions.

Modi's Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) ally in Assam, Asom Gana Parishad, which had supported the bill in parliament, told local media yesterday it now intended to challenge the law in the Supreme Court.