India protests rage against citizenship law, but Modi defiant

New Delhi (AFP) –


Police fired tear gas at protesters in India's capital Tuesday as tens of thousands rallied around the country against a new citizenship law they say is anti-Muslim, but Prime Minister Narendra Modi remained defiant.

The law grants citizenship to non-Muslims from three neighbouring countries in what opponents say is part of Modi's Hindu-nationalist masterplan.

Uproar over the move has sparked days of protests, clashes and riots across India that have left six people dead and dozens injured in a major challenge to Modi since he swept to power in 2014.

In Muslim-populated areas of Delhi on Wednesday, buses and a police outpost were torched and tear gas filled streets as thousands of protesters hurled stones at police in Seelampur district in the latest violence to hit the capital.

Tens of thousands more rallied in West Bengal, Kolkata and Tamil Nadu states on a sixth day of nationwide protests.

But the prime minister was adamant that the Citizenship Amendment Act (CAA), passed last week, would not affect Indian nationals, including Muslims.

He blamed the opposition Congress party for "spreading violence and creating an environment of fear" by lying about the law's intent.

"It's as clear as being engraved in stone that the CAA will not affect any citizen -- Muslim, Hindu, Christian or anyone else," Modi told a political rally in eastern Jharkhand state.

- 'People won't accept the law' -

In the eastern city of Kolkata, more than 20,000 protesters joined a fresh march led by West Bengal Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee, a fierce critic of Modi.

Banerjee, who also led protests on Monday, told the crowd the law would not be implemented "for as long as I am alive".

Filmmaker Gautam Ghosh, also at the march, told AFP the law would "divide the country".

"If the federal government tries to implement the law, there will be more bloodshed. People will not accept it," he added.

Train services were disrupted after railway tracks were blocked by protesters, while nearly 700 people have been arrested, Banerjee said.

Authorities have imposed internet blackouts and used force to shut down rallies and sit-ins across several states.

In the northeastern state of Assam, the epicentre of the protests where four people died after being shot by police, a curfew imposed in some regions was lifted early Tuesday.

- Calls for police restraint -

The new round of rallies came as the Supreme Court on Tuesday referred petitions calling for a probe into allegations of police brutality to the states' High Courts.

Rioters had torched vehicles while police with batons fired tear gas and charged protesting students before storming Delhi's Jamia Millia Islamia university late Sunday.

The university's vice-chancellor said Monday 200 people were injured but police put the number at 39 students hurt with 30 officers also injured, one of them critically.

Ten people had been arrested for rioting and mob violence but none of them was a student, police told the Hindustan Times on Tuesday.

Human Rights Watch called for police to show restraint, amid claims authorities were using unnecessary or excessive force to quell the unrest in several cities.

Amnesty International also called for police to be investigated over allegations student protesters from Aligarh Muslim University in Uttar Pradesh state were beaten up by officers.

"Students have the right to protest. Violence against peacefully protesting students cannot under any circumstance be justified," Amnesty India's executive director Avinash Kumar said in a statement.

Modi has said Muslims from Pakistan, Bangladesh and Afghanistan are not covered by the citizenship law because they have no need of India's protection.