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India protests: Death toll rises to 17 as clashes between police and demonstrators continue

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Indian protests continue to demonstrate against the new citizenship law
Indian protests continue to demonstrate against the new citizenship law   -  
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The number of people who have died during clashes between police and demonstrators in India has risen to 17 following weeks of unrest over a proposed citizenship law.

OP Singh, the chief of police in Uttar Pradesh state, said three people had died in clashes on Saturday, bringing the death toll in the state alone to nine.

The ongoing backlash against the law marks the strongest show of dissent against the Hindu nationalist government of Prime Minister Narendra Modi since he was first elected in 2014.

The law allows Hindus, Christians and other religious minorities who are in India illegally to become citizens if they can show they were persecuted because of their religion in Muslim-majority Bangladesh, Pakistan and Afghanistan. It does not apply to Muslims.

Critics have slammed the law as a violation of India's secular constitution and have called it the latest effort by the Modi government to marginalise the country's 200 million Muslims. Modi has defended the law as a humanitarian gesture.

India's Ministry of Information and Broadcasting issued an advisory on Friday night asking broadcasters across the country to refrain from using content that could inflame further violence. The ministry asked for “strict compliance".

In the northeastern border state of Assam, where internet services were restored after a 10-day blockade, hundreds of women on Saturday staged a sit-in against the law in Gauhati, the state capital.

“Our peaceful protests will continue till this illegal and unconstitutional citizenship law amendment is scrapped,” said Samujjal Bhattacharya, the leader of the All Assam Students Union, which organized the rally.

He rejected an offer for dialogue by Assam Chief Minister Sarbananda Sonowal, saying talks cannot take place when the “government was hoping to strike some compromise.”

AP
Critics say the law is part of a wider campaign to discriminate against Muslims in IndiaAPAnupam Nath

In New Delhi on Saturday, police charged more than a dozen people with rioting in connection with violence during a protest Friday night in the capital's Daryaganj area.

Protests against the law come amid an ongoing crackdown in Muslim-majority Kashmir, the restive Himalayan region stripped of its semi-autonomous status and demoted from a state into a federal territory in August.

The demonstrations also follow a contentious process in Assam meant to weed out foreigners living in the country illegally. Nearly 2 million people were excluded from an official list of citizens, about half Hindu and half Muslim, and have been asked to prove their citizenship or else be considered foreign.

India is building a detention centre for some of the tens of thousands of people who the courts are expected to ultimately determine have entered illegally. Modi's interior minister, Amit Shah, has pledged to roll out the process nationwide.

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