India protests rage on as death toll rises to 24

Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe cancelled a visit to India, the Indian foreign ministry said, amid tensions in the northeast region, where he was due to hold summit talks with counterpart Narendra Modi.

Citizenship protests spread to Bengal, protesters torch 5 trains, 3 railway stations, damage property. CAA protests deadlier than months-long Hong Kong protests: 25 killed in India, 2 deaths reported in Hong Kong, now in its seventh month.

Thousands of people joined fresh rallies against a contentious citizenship law in India on Saturday, with 24 killed so far in nearly two weeks of widespread unrest. The death toll jumped one day after demonstrations turned violent on Friday 20 Dec., in India’s most populous state, Uttar Pradesh, where at least 15 people were killed including an eight-year-old boy who was trampled to death.

Anger has been growing over the law, approved by parliament on December 11, which gives religious minority members from three neighbouring countries an easier path to citizenship — but not if they are Muslim. Critics say the law discriminates against Muslims and is part of Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s Hindu-nationalist agenda, a claim his political party denies.

Authorities have imposed emergency laws, blocked internet access, and shut down shops in sensitive areas across the country in an attempt to contain the unrest. More than 7,000 people have either been detained under emergency laws or arrested for rioting, according to several state police officials. Uttar Pradesh police said they have arrested 705 people involved in the protests.

The arrests however have done nothing to stop the spread of demonstrations across the country. Protests were held in numerous states, including in the cities of Chennai, Delhi, Gurgaon, Kolkata and Guwahati. As day broke in the capital New Delhi, demonstrators held up their mobile phones as torches outside India’s biggest mosque Jama Masjid in a show of dissent.

In Patna, in the eastern state of Bihar, Tree demonstrators suffered gunshot wounds and Six others were wounded in a stone-throwing clash with counter-protesters, police said. At an all-women protest in Guwahati, in the northeastern state of Assam — where the wave of protests started amid fears the immigrants would dilute their local cultures — participants said it was time to speak up.

– ‘Stampede-like situation’ –

Since being re-elected this year Modi and his Bharatiya Janata Party have stripped Muslim-majority Kashmir of its autonomy and carried out a register of citizens in Assam, a state with a large Muslim population. The BJP has said it wants to conduct the National Register of Citizens (NRC) nationwide, fuelling fears that Muslims — a 200-million minority in India — were being disenfranchised.

BJP’s general secretary Bhupender Yadav told reporters Saturday that the party would “launch an awareness campaign” and hold 1,000 rallies to dispel “lies” about the law. In Uttar Pradesh in northern India, where Muslims make up almost 20 percent of the state’s population of 200 million, 15 people were killed in clashes with police, state police Chief O.P. Singh said.

One person was killed on Thursday 19 Dec. ahead of the Friday’s 20 Dec, deadly violence that left 14 dead. Another died on Saturday 21 Dec,. The unrest had already seen two deaths in the southern state of Karnataka and Six in northeastern Assam state. An AFP reporter at the scene saw protesters, including children, being detained and beaten by police. More than 45 people were injured in the violence.

Scores of shoes and skull caps were left strewn on the nearly mile-long carriageway that connects the old city with central Delhi after the clashes. The leader of a prominent organization in the Dalit community — the lowest group in the Hindu caste system — who joined the Delhi demonstrators was arrested on Saturday 21 Dec., police said.

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