India citizenship law protests rage on as death toll rises to 23

Dozens have been injured in violent clashes between police and protesters, many in sensitive parts of Uttar Pradesh, above. (AFP)
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Updated 21 December 2019

India citizenship law protests rage on as death toll rises to 23

  • Police have clashed with thousands of protesters who took to the streets in several parts of the country to oppose the new law
  • Ongoing backlash against the law marks the strongest show of dissent against the Hindu nationalist government

NEW DELHI: Thousands of people joined fresh rallies against a contentious citizenship law in India on Saturday, with 21 killed so far in this month’s unrest.
The death toll jumped after demonstrations turned violent on Friday in the most populous state Uttar Pradesh, leaving at least 11 dead including an eight-year-old boy, who was trampled.
Another protester died Saturday after clashes in Rampur, also in Uttar Pradesh, as police used tear gas and batons against a stone-pelting crowd, police told AFP.
Disquiet has been growing about the law, which was passed by parliament on December 11 and gives people from persecuted minorities from three neighboring countries an easier path to citizenship — but not if they are Muslim.

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Critics say the law discriminates against Muslims and is part of Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s Hindu-nationalist agenda, a claim his political party has denied.
Authorities have scrambled to contain the situation — imposing emergency laws, blocking Internet access, and shutting down shops in sensitive areas across the country.
Demonstrators have vowed to keep up their fight until the law is revoked.
Protests were held Saturday in numerous states, including in the cities of Chennai, Gurgaon and Guwahati.
As day broke in the capital New Delhi, demonstrators held up their mobile phones as torches at India’s biggest mosque Jama Masjid in a show of dissent.
In Patna in the eastern state of Bihar, three demonstrators suffered bullet wounds and six were hurt from stone-pelting after clashing with counter-protesters, police said.

At an all-women protest in Assam state’s Guwahati city in the northeast — where the wave of protests started amid fears the immigrants would dilute their local cultures — participants said it was time to speak up.
“We came out to fight for our motherland, we came to fight without any arms and ammunition, we will fight peacefully,” Lily Dutta told AFP.
Since being re-elected this year Modi and his Bharatiya Janata Party have stripped Muslim-majority Kashmir of its autonomy and carried out a register of citizens in Assam.
The BJP has said it wants to conduct the National Register of Citizens (NRC) nationwide, fueling fears Muslims — a 200-million minority in India — were being disenfranchised.
BJP’s general secretary Bhupender Yadav told reporters Saturday the party would “launch an awareness campaign” and hold 1,000 rallies to dispel “lies” about the law.
In northern Uttar Pradesh, Muslims make up almost 20 percent of the 200-million population. The state’s police spokesman Shirish Chandra told AFP 10 people died Friday after being shot.
The boy also died Friday in a “stampede-like situation” when 2,500 people including children joined a rally in the holy city of Varanasi, district police chief Prabhakar Chaudhary told AFP.
The unrest had already seen one death in Uttar Pradesh, two in the southwestern state of Karnataka and six in Assam.
On Saturday police erected barricades along Delhi’s Jantar Mantar, an avenue that in recent years has been a hotspot for protests.
It came after street battles broke out on Friday evening in Delhi with police firing a water cannon and baton-charging protesters, who chanted anti-Modi slogans and threw stones.
An AFP reporter at the scene saw protesters, including children, being detained and beaten by police.
Forty people were taken into custody, including at least eight under 18 years old, police told AFP Saturday, adding that most of them were released.
Sixteen others were arrested over charges of violence, the police spokesman added.
Delhi’s chief metropolitan magistrate late Friday had ordered the release of everyone under 18 who was detained.
The leader of a prominent organization in the Dalit community — the lowest group in the Hindu caste system — who joined the Delhi demonstrators was arrested Saturday, police added.
On Saturday, distraught families and lawyers waited outside a police station in Old Delhi where nearly dozen people were being held.


UK vaccine frontrunner could be available in first half of 2021

Updated 32 min 56 sec ago

UK vaccine frontrunner could be available in first half of 2021

  • Human trials of the vaccine will expand to hundreds more people in the “coming weeks.”

LONDON: A leading British scientist has said a Covid-19 vaccine could be rolled out across the country as early as the first half of next year.

Professor Robin Shattock leads the team working on Imperial College London’s vaccine, one of the UK’s two most promising research programs. He told Sky News: “We anticipate if everything goes really well, that we'll get an answer as to whether it works by early next year.

“Assuming that the funding is there to purchase that vaccine, we could have that vaccine rolled out across the UK in the first half of next year.”

Shattock also warned that there was “no certainty” that any of the vaccines currently being developed would work, but said the risk of that is “very, very low.”

Imperial College London is now conducting human trials of their vaccine, with 15 volunteers having received it so far. Shattock said this will be ramped up in the “coming weeks” to include another 200 to 300 patients.

“I think we're very lucky in the UK that we have two very strong candidates, the one from Imperial, the one from Oxford, and so we’re pretty well placed, but there's still not a certainty that either of those two will work,” he said.

Oxford University is also developing a vaccination for Covid-19, in partnership with British-Swedish pharmaceutical giant AstraZeneca.

While Shattock said he hopes Imperial College London’s vaccine will be available for the whole of the UK in the first half of next year, it is unclear how long it would take for it to be available outside of the country.

The UK, European Union and the US have all invested huge sums into vaccine development, and struck deals with pharmaceutical companies worth hundreds of millions of dollars each to ensure first-in-line access to successful vaccinations.

However, international organizations such as the UN, International Red Crescent and Red Cross, and Doctors Without Borders have raised concerns that the world’s poorest countries will be unable to access vaccinations and effective Covid-19 treatments due to rich countries outspending them.