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India bans citizenship law protests as death toll hits 14

Ashok Sharma
Associated Press

New Delhi – Police banned public gatherings in parts of the Indian capital and other cities for a third day Friday and cut internet services to counter growing protests against a new law that critics say marginalizes Muslims. Fourteen people have died so far and more than 4,000 have been detained, officials said.

Thousands of protesters stood inside and on the steps of New Delhi’s Jama Masijd, one of India’s largest mosques, after Friday afternoon prayers. They waved Indian flags and shouted slogans against the government and the citizenship law, which opponents contend threatens India’s secular democracy in favor of a Hindu state.

Indian police detain a man during a protest against a new citizenship law in Ahmadabad, India, Thursday, Dec. 19, 2019.

Police banned a proposed march from the mosque to an area near Parliament and sprayed protesters with water cannon blasts to prevent them from meeting up with more demonstrators about 4 kilometers (2 1 / 2miles) away in central Delhi.

Much of the violence was in the northern state of Uttar Pradesh, where protesters set fire to police posts and vehicles and hurled rocks at security forces. The death toll rose to 14 after Avanish Awasthi, a spokesman for Uttar Pradesh, said late Friday that six people had died during clashes between demonstrators and police.

Most of the detentions also were in Uttar Pradesh, where more than 100 have been arrested and 3,305 detained since Thursday, said state police chief O.P. Singh.

Many of the protesters are angered by a new law that allows Hindus, Christians and other religious minorities who are in India illegally to become citizens if they can show they were persecuted because of their religion in Muslim-majority Bangladesh, Pakistan and Afghanistan. The law does not apply to Muslims.

Critics have slammed it as a violation of the country’s secular constitution and label it the latest effort by Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s Hindu nationalist-led government to marginalize India’s 200 million Muslims. Modi has defended the law as a humanitarian gesture.

Indian policemen baton charge a man during a protest against a new citizenship law in Ahmadabad, India, Thursday, Dec. 19, 2019.

In New Delhi, about 10,000 demonstrators outside Jamia Millia Islamia University collected signatures for a petition demanding the new citizenship law be scrapped. The university was the site of last weekend clashes in which students accused police of using excessive force.

The violence wasn’t limited to the streets. Surveillance video seen by The Associated Press shows police entering Highland Hospital in the southern city of Mangalore on Thursday night and using batons to disperse protesters who had taken shelter inside.

The video shows two policemen trying to kick open a hospital ward door and masked people running down a corridor. It also shows protesters throwing rocks at police and then barging into the hospital.

Employee Mohammad Abdullah said by phone that police entered the hospital and fired tear gas shells.