India protests spread over 'anti-Muslim' law

2019-12-16 09:44
A man walks on a street as a bus is on fire following a demonstration against the Indian government's Citizenship Amendment Bill (CAB) in New Delhi on December 15, 2019.

A man walks on a street as a bus is on fire following a demonstration against the Indian government's Citizenship Amendment Bill (CAB) in New Delhi on December 15, 2019. (STR / AFP)

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Fresh protests were expected across India on Monday over a new citizenship law seen as anti-Muslim, after clashes overnight in the capital and days of unrest in the northeast that left six people dead.

The bill fast-tracks citizenship for non-Muslim immigrants from three neighbouring countries, but critics allege it is part of Prime Minister Narendra Modi's Hindu nationalist agenda to marginalise India's 200 million Muslims -- something he denies.

On Sunday evening thousands took to the streets in the northeast, the scene of days of rioting and deadly running battles with police, while other protests were reported across India in Delhi, Aligarh, Hyderabad, Mumbai, Patna and Raipur.

In the capital officers fired tear gas and charged with batons as several thousand demonstrators marched, and rallied outside the Jamia Millia Islamia university and police headquarters. Four buses and two police vehicles were reportedly set ablaze.

Police stormed the university campus, with media outlets reporting as many as 100 students and a dozen officers were injured.

Around 50 people were detained and released after a night behind bars on Monday, police said.

Students insisted in a statement that they disassociated themselves from any violence.

"We have time and again maintained that our protests are peaceful and non-violent. We stand by this approach and condemn any party involved in the violence," they declared.

Authorities in northern Uttar Pradesh have snapped internet access in western parts of the state following the demonstrations on Aligarh, home to a large university and a sizeable Muslim population.

However the main epicentre of the protests has been in India's far-flung northeastern states, long a seething and violent melting pot of ethnic tensions.

There people are opposed to the citizenship law because they fear it will allow several hundred thousand immigrants from Bangladesh, many of them Hindu, to stay.

On Sunday night in Assam state -- following days of rioting and clashes with police that have left six people dead -- around 6,000 people protested on Sunday evening, with no major incidents reported.

The UN human rights office said last week it was concerned the law "would appear to undermine the commitment to equality before the law enshrined in India's constitution".

Modi on Sunday blamed the main opposition Congress party and its allies for the unrest, while Home Minister Amit Shah called again for calm.

"Culture, language, social identity and political rights of our brothers and sisters from the northeast will remain intact," Shah said in a speech.

The new law is being challenged in the Supreme Court by rights groups and a Muslim political party, arguing that it is against the constitution and India's secular traditions.

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