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Dozens injured in India as activists clash with police in citizenship law protests

NEW DELHI — More than 100 activists protesting a new Indian citizenship law were injured in New Delhi on Sunday as they clashed with police who used tear gas and baton charges to disperse demonstrators at a major university.

Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s government says the new law will save religious minorities, such as Hindus and Christians, from persecution in neighboring Bangladesh, Pakistan and Afghanistan by offering them a path to Indian citizenship. But critics say the law, which does not make the same provision for Muslims, weakens India’s secular foundations.

Sunday was the fifth straight day of protests across the country against the law, which was enacted earlier this month, and the third day running in the capital.

A man runs past a burning bus that was set on fire by demonstrators during a protest against a new citizenship law in New Delhi on Sunday.Adnan Abidi / Reuters

Police tried to contain thousands of protesters, including locals and students, who had gathered near Jamia Millia Islamia University in southeast Delhi. Clashes erupted, and authorities said protesters torched buses, cars and motorbikes.

Officials at two hospitals said more than 100 people with injuries had been brought in following the clashes.

“Many of them have fracture injuries. We are running out of plaster of paris for casts,” said Inamul Hassan, an official at Alshifa Hospital near the university.

A spokesman for Holy Family Hospital told Reuters’ partner agency ANI that it had treated 26 students suffering minor injuries.

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Police storm campus

Police resorted to baton charges and tear gas to disperse protesters, a witness told Reuters. Officers stormed the campus to confront protesters who they said fled into the university and threw stones at police.

“About 4,000 people were protesting, and police did what they did to disperse them when the crowd burnt buses,” said Chinmoy Biswal, a senior police officer in the area. “If it had been a peaceful mob, it would have been dispersed peacefully.”

He said that police entered the campus to maintain order and that six officers had been wounded.

Some students and officials at Jamia Millia, a storied institution almost 100 years old, decried the police action.

“Police have entered the campus by force. No permission was given. Our staff and students are being beaten up and forced to leave the campus,” Waseem Ahmed Khan, a senior faculty member of the university, told ANI.

A student, Tehreem Mirza, said students took shelter in the library after police fired tear gas.

Blame game

The protests have raged particularly in some eastern states such as Assam, Tripura and West Bengal, where resentment toward Bangladeshi immigrants has persisted for decades.

Authorities have shut down internet access in several parts of the affected states to maintain law and order.

Modi, speaking at a rally in the eastern state of Jharkhand on Sunday, blamed the opposition Congress party and its allies for inciting violence against the citizenship law.

Demonstrators shout slogans during a protest against a new citizenship law outside police headquarters in New Delhi on Monday.Adnan Abidi / Reuters

The Congress party in turn slammed Modi’s Bharatiya Janata Party on Twitter, saying the government “has failed at its duty to maintain peace in the nation.”

Local authorities ordered all schools in southeast Delhi to remain closed Monday. Jamia Millia had already said, on Saturday, that it was closing early for the winter break. Aligarh Muslim University in the northern state of Uttar Pradesh also announced that it was shutting early for the break after student protesters clashed with police Sunday.

Hundreds of activists gathered Sunday night outside New Delhi police headquarters to protest alleged police brutality and the detention of students.

Meanwhile, protests continued in parts of eastern India. A highway connecting West Bengal and Assam was blocked in several places Sunday when protesters burned tires, demanding that the law be scrapped. Violence was also reported in Patna, the capital of the eastern state of Bihar.