NEW DELHI (Reuters) - A policeman was killed and dozens of people injured amid clashes in New Delhi on Monday as thousands demonstrating for and against a new citizenship law rioted for several hours before U.S. President Donald Trump’s maiden visit to the city.
Police used tear gas and smoke grenades but struggled to disperse the crowds, as both sides hurled stones and turned a wide boulevard into a rock-strewn battle zone, about 11 miles from where Trump will meet Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi for talks on Tuesday.
One police constable was killed, a police official told Reuters, declining to be named since he isn’t authorised to speak to media.
An official at Delhi’s GTB Hospital said more than 35 people injured in the clashes were undergoing treatment. Reuters partner ANI reported that one civilian had also died, but Reuters was unable to confirm it.
Reuters reporters saw multiple vehicles set on fire, metal barricades torn down and thick smoke billowing as supporters of the new law clashed with opponents. A small contingent of police was vastly outnumbered.
India’s capital has been a hotbed of protests against the law, which eases the path of non-Muslims from three neighbouring Muslim-dominated countries to gain Indian citizenship.
This has led to accusations that Modi and his Hindu nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) are undermining India’s secular traditions.
The BJP denies any bias against India’s more than 180 million-strong Muslim minority, but objectors have been holding protests and camping out in parts of New Delhi for two months.
Monday’s clashes were among the worst seen in New Delhi since the protests against the Citizenship Amendment Act (CAA) began in early December.
The latest round of violence came as Trump began his first visit to India as U.S. president, addressing a rally in Modi’s home state of Gujarat.
Trump landed in New Delhi late on Monday.
‘GO AHEAD AND THROW STONES’
The clashes stretched over a nearly kilometre long road and lasted from early afternoon until well into the evening, leaving at least half a dozen people injured.
Police on Monday imposed an emergency law prohibiting any gatherings in the violence-hit areas.
The protesters appeared to be divided along religious lines, and some repeatedly hailed Hindu god Ram while pelting stones at the predominantly Muslim group opposed to the new law.
A Reuters witness saw at least one Muslim man and a burqa-clad woman beaten by dozens of pro-law protesters with sticks and iron rods.
Earlier on Monday, local politician Yogendra Yadav described the violence as “communal” and urged police to intervene.
But for several hours, Reuters witnesses saw the outnumbered policemen mostly stand beside those backing the citizenship law, a majority Hindu group, and do little to quell the violence. The police also stood by as a mob vandalised a store with a Muslim name, pulling out vehicles and setting them alight.
“Go ahead and throw stones,” one policeman shouted to protesters backing the law, during one of the running battles.
On side streets, young boys drained fuel from motorcycles to make petrol bombs, and protesters pulled up paving stones and flung construction material at opponents.
“We are in support of the CAA. If they want to protest, they should go somewhere else,” said a protester who gave his name as Amit.
India’s junior home minister G. Kishan Reddy said the violence was a “conspiracy to shame India globally” during Trump’s visit.
“We have deployed additional forces, and we will do everything to bring law and order under control,” he told Reuters partner ANI.
In Gujarat, Trump told a gathering of more than 100,000 people that “India is a country that proudly embraces freedom, liberty, individual rights, the rule of law, and the dignity of every human being”.
Reporting by Devjyot Ghoshal; Editing by Kevin Liffey and Ed Osmond
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