Thursday, January 23, 2020 | ePaper

Protests over Citizenship Bill

3 killed in police firing in Guwahati

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Members of the youth wing of India's main opposition Congress party burn a copy of Citizenship Amendment Bill, a bill that seeks to give citizenship to religious minorities persecuted in neighbouring Muslim countries, during a protest in New Delhi, India

NDTV, Guwahati :
Three protesters were killed and many others injured in police firing in Assam's Guwahati amid a raging agitation against the Citizenship (Amendment) Bill on Thursday evening. The incident occurred even as thousands of protesters descended on the streets in defiance of a curfew imposed on the city after the parliament cleared the contentious legislation on Wednesday night. Earlier today, the government had extended the suspension of Internet services in 10 districts of Assam for another 48 hours, and deployed army personnel in four areas where clashes between protesters and police were witnessed.The residences of several politicians, including Chief Minister Sarbananda Sonowal and Union Minister Rameswar Teli, were attacked by protesters as violence continued unabated.
The suspension of Internet services in 10 districts of Assam was extended for another 48 hours, starting Thursday noon. Guwahati and Dibrugarh were placed under indefinite curfew even as protesters targeted the homes of Sarbananda Sonowal, Rameswar Teli and BJP MLA Binanda Hazarika. Reports suggested that while the initial agitation held by student groups was peaceful, it turned violent after angry mobs joined in.   Five columns of the army-each comprising 70 personnel-have been deployed in Assam. Two of the army columns deployed in Guwahati have carried out flag marches, news agency PTI quoted a senior officer as saying. Army personnel have also been deployed in Tinsukia, Dibrugarh and Jorhat districts, the news agency reported.
In a major reshuffle in the midst of the violence, the Assam government replaced Guwahati Police Commissioner Deepak Kumar with IPS officer Munna Prasad Gupta. Assam Additional Director General of Police (Law and Order) Mukesh Agarwal was also transferred, with IPS officer GP Singh being appointed in his place.
Even as violence continued unabated, Prime Minister Narendra Modi tweeted on Thursday morning that the people of Assam have nothing to worry about because "no one can take away your rights". Mr Sonowal also said in a video message that he was "resolutely committed to protect the identity, rights, heritage and culture of the Assamese people", and urged them to continue on the path of progress "while keeping alive our ancient values of peace, harmony and brotherhood".
While IndiGo announced that all its flights to and from Dibrugarh in Assam have been cancelled, SpiceJet is offering refunds and waiver of cancellation or change fees for all flights on the Guwahati-Dibrugarh route until Friday. Other airlines such as Vistara and GoAir also announced the cancellation of flights to the two cities while waiving cancellation and rescheduling fees.
Thousands of people had descended on the streets of Assam in protest even as the Rajya Sabha cleared the Citizenship (Amendment) Bill, with 125 voting for it and 99 against, on Wednesday night. The clashes that followed were of a magnitude unseen since the violent six-year movement by students that ended with the signing of the Assam Accord in 1985.
According to police, the headquarters of the Asom Gana Parishad-the BJP's ally in Assam --  was attacked by people protesting against the Citizenship (Amendment) Bill in Guwahati's Ambari area. Two railway stations in Dibrugarh's Chabua and Tinsukia were also set on fire, a Northeast Frontier Railway spokesperson said. Chabua is the hometown of Mr Sonowal.
In Tripura, three columns of the Assam Rifles, a paramilitary force commanded by army officials, were pressed into service on Wednesday.  A defence spokesman had earlier said that two columns of the army were deployed in Tripura.
Internet services in Tripura have already been suspended for 48 hours, starting 2 pm on Tuesday. The opposition Congress has also called for a shutdown in the state to protest the bill, which makes it easier for non-Muslim migrants to gain Indian citizenship. While opposition parties have accused the bill of discriminating against Muslims, protesters in the Northeast claim that it will end up robbing the region of its identity.  
The Citizenship (Amendment) Bill was cleared by the Lok Sabha on Monday, with 334 MPs supporting it in a house where the government enjoys brute majority. Although the ruling BJP does not have a majority in the Rajya Sabha, it managed to push the bill through with the help of regional parties such as the Biju Janata Dal and Telugu Desam Party.

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