At least 19 dead in New Delhi riots as sectarian violence flares up

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NEW DELHI: At least 19 people have been killed in the Indian capital during clashes between opposing protesters over a new citizenship law, a senior hospital official told Reuters on Wednesday, even as an eerie calm descended on some riot-torn areas of New Delhi.

“There are 15 patients in critical condition,” the hospital official from the Guru Teg Bahadur Hospital told Reuters, adding that a total of 19 people had now died at the facility.

Police used tear gas and smoke grenades but struggled to disperse stone-throwing crowds.

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The clashes, which coincided with a visit to India by US President Donald Trump, erupted early this week between thousands demonstrating for and against the new citizenship law introduced by Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s Hindu nationalist led government.

Critics say the law is biased against Muslims and undermines India’s secular constitution.

The capital’s Chief Minister Arvind Kejriwal, who visited the Guru Teg Bahadur Hospital, earlier pleaded for the “madness to stop”, according to PTI.

Delhi Police spokesperson Mandeep Randhawa called on locals “not to take the law in their own hands”.

National Home Minister Amit Shah, whose ministry controls law and order in the capital region, met with senior Delhi government officials and promised to deploy more police if they were needed, Kejriwal said.

National Security Adviser Ajit Doval was in Delhi’s Seelampur district to inspect the area after the outbreak of violence, India Today television channel reported.

Broadcaster NDTV said three of its reporters and a cameraman were attacked by a mob on the northeastern fringe of the city of 20 million people.

“There is hardly any police presence in the area. Rioters are running around threatening people, vandalizing shops,” said a resident of the poor, migrant neighborhood of Maujpur.

At Jaffrabad, one of the poorest neighborhoods on the fringes of Delhi and home to shanty colonies, an AFP reporter saw locals turn off their lights and lock their doors amid a massive police presence.

Police manning barricades said mobs in the area were threatening journalists and that their officers had come under attack.

“People are killing (each other). Bullets are being fired here,” said a tailor in Jaffrabad, adding that he was returning home to his village in northern Uttar Pradesh state.

“There is no work… It is better to leave than to stick around here. Why would we want to die here?”

The new citizenship law has raised worries abroad – including in Washington – that Modi wants to remold secular India into a Hindu nation while marginalizing the country’s 200 million Muslims, a claim he denies.

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After meetings with Modi, Trump said on Tuesday that the riots were an internal matter for India.

Global rights group Amnesty International tweeted that “political leaders in India who are fuelling hatred and creating a violent environment by making hate speeches must be immediately held accountable”.

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