Fresh clashes in India as death toll hits 14

Fresh clashes in India as death toll hits 14

India citizenship law clashes
In this photo taken on Dec 19, 2019 police beat protesters with sticks during a demonstration against India's new citizenship law in Lucknow. (Photo: AFP)

NEW DELHI: Four new protesters have died in fresh clashes with police in northern India, a medical official said Friday (Dec 20), 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.

Fresh clashes between Indian police and demonstrators erupted on Friday after more than a week of deadly unrest triggered by the citizenship law.

The law making it easier for persecuted minorities from three neighbouring countries to get citizenship but not if they are Muslims, has stoked fears that Modi wants to remould India as a Hindu nation, which he denies.

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 earlier 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 per cent 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 on Thursday hit the streets nationwide, with violence erupting in several places including Lucknow in the north, Mangalore in the south, and Modi's home state of Gujarat.

READ: From Instagram to TikTok: Indians wage online battle against citizenship law

Protest against new citizenship law in Delhi
Police officers detain a demonstrator during a protest against a new citizenship law at Red Fort in Delhi, India, Dec 19, 2019. (Photo: Reuters/Adnan Abidi)

READ: Curfew imposed in Indian city as two die in protests, internet shut in parts

In Mangalore, security forces opened fire on a crowd of around 200 people after they ignored orders to disperse, killing two people, police spokesman Qadir Shah told AFP. Four others were in hospital with gunshot wounds.

"They marched towards the busiest area of Mangalaru. This led to lathi (big, wooden sticks) charge. Then the tear gas was fired. When the protesters still didn't stop, the police had to open fire," he said, using an alternate name for the city.

Four others were in hospital with gunshot wounds, while 28 policemen were injured, medical and police officials told AFP.

Another protester succumbed to gunshot injuries in Lucknow, the capital of India's most populous state Uttar Pradesh, said a doctor who did not want to be named, with vehicles and a police post set on fire in one district.

Police denied opening fire in the city, which is home to a large Muslim minority, but his father told the Times of India his son was shot after getting caught in a crowd of protesters while out to buy groceries.

READ: Defiant Indians protest nationwide against citizenship law

Demonstrators attend a protest against a new citizenship law, in Chandigarh
Demonstrators attend a protest against a new citizenship law, in Chandigarh, India, Dec 19, 2019. (Photo: Reuters/Ajay Verma)

Fresh clashes erupted in Lucknow on Friday when police halted a few hundred people on their way to a planned protest, with security forces firing tear gas and charging with batons, an AFP reporter at the scene said.

Elsewhere, there were no major incidents although police bundled hundreds of people onto buses in Delhi and Bangalore after they defied bans on assembly including a prominent rights activist and an internationally renowned historian.

EMERGENCY LAWS

The protests have in places seen demonstrators hurl rocks at security forces and set fire to vehicles, while alleged police brutality - including at a Delhi university on Sunday - has fuelled the anger.

The authorities have scrambled to contain the situation, imposing emergency laws, blocking internet access, and shutting down shops and restaurants in sensitive pockets across the country.

READ: Delhi cuts mobile phone services as India protests rage nationwide

Policemen officers wield sticks against demonstrators during a protest against a new citizenship la
Policemen officers wield sticks against demonstrators during a protest against a new citizenship law, in Ahmedabad, India, Dec 19, 2019. (Photo: Reuters/Amit Dave)

In Uttar Pradesh - home to over 200 million people - mobile Internet and text messaging services were cut in several areas including in Ghaziabad, which neighbours Delhi.

Mobile phone services were also briefly suspended Thursday in parts of Delhi, and access in parts of northeast India - where the wave of protests began - was only restored on 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.

READ: Finger-wagging Muslim women become Indian protest symbols

A Muslim man cries as he offers prayers during a protest against a new citizenship law, in Delhi
A Muslim man cries as he offers prayers during a protest against a new citizenship law, in Delhi, India, Dec 19, 2019. (Photo: Reuters/Danish Siddiqui India)

"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."

Source: AFP/zl

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