NEW DELHI, India (AFP) — Fresh deadly clashes between Indian police and demonstrators erupted on Friday after more than a week of unrest triggered by a citizenship law seen as anti-Muslim, as thousands rallied at the nation’s biggest mosque.
Three protesters were shot dead on Thursday and police said another was killed in clashes in Uttar Pradesh state Friday.
Four new protesters have died in fresh clashes with police in northern India, a medical official said Friday, bringing the death toll to 14 in more than a week of unrest triggered by a contentious citizenship law.
The bodies of the men were brought into a hospital in Meerut, with two from neighbouring Muzaffarnagar district in the northern state of Uttar Pradesh, Meerut district’s chief medical officer Rajkumar, who goes by one name, told AFP.
“We will be conducting a post-mortem to ascertain the exact cause of the death,” he said, adding that seven more demonstrators were taken to local hospitals with injuries.
The rising death toll came in the wave of anger emerging as a major challenge to Prime Minister Narendra Modi.
The law making it easier for persecuted minorities from three neighbouring countries to gain citizenship — but not if they are Muslim — has stoked fears that Modi wants to remould India as a Hindu nation, which he denies.
“All the people here, be it those who are Hindu, Muslim, Sikh or Christian — they are all out on the streets,” Tanvi Gudiya told AFP at a rally after Friday prayers in a Muslim neighbourhood in the capital New Delhi.
“So doesn’t it affect Modi at all? Does Modi not like anyone? Why is he becoming like Hitler?”
The protests in Delhi centred on India’s largest mosque Jama Masjid where thousands of people — some carrying a huge Indian flag — chanted as riot police looked on.
The demonstrators, joined by the leader of a prominent group in the Dalit community — the lowest group in the Hindu caste system — later pushed their way out of the mosque and tore down posters of Modi before staging a sit-in at Delhi Gate in the Old Delhi district.
More than a dozen metro stations were closed for the second straight day in the capital.
In India’s most populous state Uttar Pradesh, where mobile internet and text messaging services were cut in several areas, fresh clashes erupted in Lucknow, the state capital.
Meanwhile in the city of Firozabad, also in Uttar Pradesh, police said “one person has died and at least one other is injured… during the protests”.
The cause of the protester’s death was not yet known, a Firozabad district police spokesman told AFP.
Violence also spread to other parts of the state, where almost 20 percent of the 200 million population are Muslim, with demonstrators throwing stones and police firing tear gas.
In Modi’s home state of Gujarat, there were new clashes between security forces and protesters in Vadodara city, a day after street battles in the largest city Ahmedabad left 20 policemen and 10 locals injured.
– Police open fire –
Tens of thousands had hit the streets nationwide Thursday, with violence erupting in several places including Mangalore in the south.
Mangalore security forces opened fire on a crowd of around 200 people after they ignored orders to disperse, killing two people, the spokesman for the deputy commissioner Qadir Shah told AFP.
Four others were in hospital with gunshot wounds, while 28 policemen were injured, medical and police officials told AFP.
A protester succumbed to gunshot injuries in Lucknow, said a doctor who declined to be named, with vehicles and a police post set on fire in one district.
Officers denied opening fire in the city. Around 3,500 people were detained across the state ahead of the protest and 112 others were arrested in Lucknow after the violence, according to police.
Five people were arrested for “misleading and inflammatory” social media posted, police added.
In Ahmedabad, video footage shared on social media and confirmed by police showed officers in riot gear being pelted with stones by protesters on Thursday.
– Emergency laws –
Authorities have scrambled to contain the situation, imposing emergency laws, blocking internet access, and shutting down shops in sensitive areas across the country.
Mobile phone services were briefly suspended Thursday in pockets of the capital, and access in parts of northeast India — where the wave of protests began — was only restored Friday.
In a strongly worded editorial, the Indian Express Friday said the government must do all it can “to keep the peace” in the country, home to 200 million Muslims.
“But in doing so the world’s largest democracy cannot look like it cannot accommodate its young who disagree, it cannot afford to signal that it is so ill at ease with itself.
“India risks a lot if it begins to be seen as a place where the dissenter’s mind is not without fear.”
© Agence France-Presse