NEW DELHI (Reuters) - Police fired shots in the air and volleys of tear gas to push back thousands of demonstrators in the Indian capital New Delhi on Tuesday as protests raged against a new citizenship law that has angered the country’s Muslims.
The situation spiraled out of control after demonstrators threw stones at policemen who were holding them at a barricade, police officer Rajendra Prasad Meena said.
In another demonstration in West Bengal state, protesters opposing the new laws hurled a homemade bomb at policemen, injuring three of them.
The new Citizenship Amendment Act makes it easier for non-Muslims from the neighboring countries of Afghanistan, Bangladesh and Pakistan to gain Indian citizenship.
Critics say it weakens India’s secular foundations since it does not apply to Muslims, and fear it is part of a Hindu nationalist plan to marginalize the country’s own Muslims.
Despite days of violent demonstrations, Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s government dug in its heels on Tuesday.
“Both my government and I are firm like a rock that we will not budge or go back on the citizenship protests,” Home Minister Amit Shah told the Times Network.
In the clashes in Delhi’s Seelampur area, police fired shots in the air and lobbed more than 60 rounds of tear gas at protesters, some with their faces covered, who threw bricks, stones and bottles at police.
About 10 people, including policemen, had been brought in into the Jag Pravesh Chandra Hospital with injuries, a hospital official said.
A protestor who gave his name as Sahil said the new law must be withdrawn.
“It is against the constitution,” he said, holding up a poster as the crowd began to disperse.
Mohammad Daud, the imam at a local mosque who helped calm the confrontation, said it began as a protest against the new citizenship law.
“We should protest against it, and we will protest against it. Neither is this a fight against the police, or a Hindu-Muslim issue. We only have a problem with the government,” Daud said.
In Sankrail, West Bengal, protesters showered police with stones then hurled a homemade bomb at them, injuring three officers, a police official said.
Opposition against the Modi government’s move has escalated in the eastern state in recent days, with its chief minister Mamata Banerjee leading large public rallies.
There have been growing questions about the stance of the government, led by Modi’s Hindu nationalist party, towards India’s 172 million Muslims, who make up 14% of the population.
The citizenship law follows the revocation of the special status of the Muslim-majority Kashmir region, and a court ruling clearing the way for the construction of a Hindu temple on the site of a mosque razed by Hindu zealots.
Pakistani Prime Minister Imran Khan said India’s actions in Kashmir and on the citizenship law could drive Muslims from India and create a refugee crisis.
“We are worried there not only could be a refugee crisis, we are worried it could lead to a conflict between two nuclear-armed countries,” Khan told the Global Forum on Refugees in Geneva.
Indian Foreign Ministry spokesman Raveesh Kumar said Khan was spreading “falsehoods”.
Anger with the Indian government was stoked this week by allegations of police brutality at Delhi’s Jamia Millia Islamia university on Sunday, when officers entered the campus and fired tear gas to break up a protest.
At least 100 people were wounded in the crackdown which has drawn criticism from rights groups.
Modi told a rally for a state election on Tuesday that his political rivals were trying to mislead students and others to stir up protests.
“This is guerrilla politics, they should stop doing this,” Modi said.
Additional reporting by Stephanie Nebehay in GENEVA, Promit Mukherjee in MUMBAI and Subrata Nag Choudhury in KOLKATA; Writing by Sanjeev Miglani; Editing by Angus MacSwan