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December 13, 2019

Several killed as protesters defy curfew in India’s Assam state

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P
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December 13, 2019

By News Desk

GAUHATI, India: Police shot and killed at least two protesters who defied a curfew in India’s north-eastern Assam state, where thousands protested against legislation that would grant citizenship to non-Muslims who migrated from neighbouring countries.

Hundreds of protesters defied the curfew in Gauhati, the state capital, and burned tyres before police dispersed them, with dozens arrested. They later regrouped and lit bonfires and blocked streets, leading to clashes with police who fired at them, killing two in two separate incidents, police said.

Soldiers drove and marched through the streets to reinforce police in violence-hit districts, including Gauhati and Dibrugarh, state police chief Bhaskar Mahanta said. Train and air services were disrupted, leaving people stranded at rail stations and airports.

The protesters in Assam oppose the legislation out of concern that migrants will move to the border region and dilute the culture and political sway of those who already live there. The legislation was passed by parliament on Wednesday and now needs to be signed by the country’s ceremonial president, a formality, before becoming law.

Prime Minister Narendra Modi appealed for peace, and in a tweet said: “I want to assure them - no-one can take away your rights, unique identity and beautiful culture. It will continue to flourish and grow.”

Protesters uprooted telephone poles, burned several buses and other vehicles and also attacked homes of officials from the governing Hindu nationalist party and the regional group Assam Gana Parishad, the Press Trust of India news agency said.

While those protesting in Assam are opposed to the bill because of worries it will allow more migrants regardless of their religion, others consider the measure as discriminatory for not applying to Muslims.

The Citizenship Amendment Bill seeks to grant Indian nationality to Buddhists, Christians, Hindus, Jains, Parsis and Sikhs who fled Pakistan, Afghanistan and Bangladesh because of religious persecution before 2015. It does not, however, extend to Rohingya Muslim refugees who fled persecution in Burma.

Home minister Amit Shah rejected criticism the legislation was anti-Muslim, saying it did not affect the existing path to citizenship available to all communities.

Human rights watchdog Amnesty India said it legitimised discrimination on the basis of religion and stood in clear violation of India’s constitution and international human rights law.

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