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Indian Prime Minister Appeals for Calm After Deadly Riots Wrack New Delhi

By Anjana Pasricha February 26, 2020

Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi is appealing for calm after three days of deadly clashes between Hindus and Muslim groups in the Indian capital left at least 23 people dead and more than 200 injured.

The rioting that wracked a neighborhood on the fringes of the city were the worst witnessed in New Delhi in recent decades and coincided with a visit by U.S. President Donald Trump to India. The clashes erupted between supporters and opponents of a new citizenship law but quickly deteriorated into communal rioting.

Armed police patrolled the area on Wednesday. Doctors said those who died had gunshot and stab wounds or head injuries incurred from jumping from heights – probably to escape rampaging mobs armed with stones, iron rods and even guns.

In a tweet Prime Minister Modi said "Peace and harmony are central to our ethos. I appeal to my sisters and brothers of Delhi to maintain peace and brotherhood at all times. It is important that there is calm and normalcy is restored at the earliest."

The appeal came as opposition leaders attacked the government for failing to control the spiraling violence in the streets of the Indian capital, less than 20 kilometers away from where Modi and Trump held talks on Tuesday.

Although tensions are still running high, an uneasy calm prevailed on Wednesday. Some Muslim families could be seen leaving the riot-affected areas that presented a scene of devastation.

Dozens of burnt and mangled vehicles lined roads and smoke still billowed from a market that sold tires. Many homes and shops had been set on fire. Two mosques were vandalized and a saffron-colored flag associated with Hindu right-wing groups was planted on the roof of one. Some journalists covering the violence were stopped by arsonists and asked about their religion.

New Delhi's Chief Minister Arvind Kerjiwal called for the federal government to send the army to the riot-hit areas.

Building confidence

Delhi's Police Commissioner Amulya Patnaik however said the situation is under control.

"A lot of confidence-building measures are being taken, peace committees have been set up," he told reporters.

The clashes erupted after Muslim Protesters occupied a road in New Delhi neighborhood on Saturday to protest the new citizenship law that makes fast-tracked Indian citizenship available to immigrants from three neighboring countries, except Muslims. The sit-in prompted a leader of the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party, Kapil Mishra, to warn of consequences if the police did not clear the area in three days.

Critics say incendiary speeches by BJP leaders about the protests have further inflamed tensions.

The Indian capital has been the epicenter of the demonstrations that have wracked the country in the wake of the new citizenship law that critics say discriminates against Muslims. Protesters want the government to scrap the law and a proposed citizens registry that would require all Indians to show documents to prove their citizenship.

President Trump told reporters on Tuesday after talks with Prime Minister Modi that he did not discuss the country's new citizenship law.

"I want to leave that to India and hopefully they're going to make the right decision for the people," he said.

Protection for non-Muslims

Modi's government has said the laws are not intended to target anyone for discrimination but are meant to ensure protection for non-Muslims who it says are persecuted in other countries.

In Washington, the U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom, an independent government panel, expressed "grave concern" about the violence in India.

"The brutal and unchecked violence growing across Delhi cannot continue," Commissioner Anurima Bhargava said Wednesday. "Reports are mounting that the Delhi police have not intervened in violent attacks against Muslims and the government is failing in its duty to protect its citizens."

Bhargava called Indian efforts to target and disenfranchise Muslims "a clear violation of international human rights."

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