The death toll from days of riots which coincided with President Trump's first ever official visit to India early this week has risen to at least 20 killed and nearly 200 wounded, Reuters reports.
New Delhi has seen the worst sectarian violence in decades after Hindus and minority Muslims clashed — along with security forces attempting to put down the violence —over the controversial new citizenship law, which prioritizes citizenship for non-Muslims from neighboring countries who immigrate.
"This was the first time that the protests have set off major bloodshed between Hindus and Muslims," crossing "an old and dangerous fault line," The New York Times reports.
Shortly before concluding his two day visit Trump was asked about the unrest by reporters. He said he “heard about” the law but that it is “up to India” to handle.
"As Air Force One flew Trump and his delegation out of New Delhi late Tuesday, Muslim families huddled in a mosque in the city's northeast, praying that Hindu mobs wouldn't burn it down," The Associated Press reports.
The riots are considered a deep embarrassment for Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi, who appealed for calm on Wednesday.
“Peace and harmony are central to our ethos. I appeal to my sisters and brothers of Delhi to maintain peace and brotherhood at all times,” Modi said in a tweet.
Men marching on top of a mosque in Delhi, India’s capital city, vandalising it, and placing a Hindu far-right saffron flag over itpic.twitter.com/3wANfPoVZQ— Alfons López Tena (@alfonslopeztena) February 25, 2020
Police and paramilitary security forces were out in greater force on the streets of the Indian capital Wednesday, after sectarian mobs had been engaged in running clashes involving guns, knives, clubs, and stones.
An eyewitness report by Reuters detailed the following:
Critics say the law is biased against Muslims and undermines India’s secular constitution. Modi’s Bharatiya Janata Party has denied it has any bias against India’s more than 180 million Muslims.
Reuters witnesses saw mobs wielding sticks and pipes walking down streets in parts of northeast Delhi on Tuesday, amid arson attacks and looting. Thick clouds of black smoke billowed from a tyre market that was set ablaze.
Many of the wounded had suffered gunshot injuries, hospital officials said. At least two mosques in northeast Delhi were set on fire.
At least 20 people are dead after right-wing Hindu groups attacked mostly-Muslim protesters in New Delhi over India's new citizenship law.— QuickTake by Bloomberg (@QuickTake) February 26, 2020
The violence began over the weekend and intensified on Tuesday during Trump’s state visit. More @business: https://t.co/i7cbE1X2qm pic.twitter.com/0kobPGw1rP
Throughout Trump's visit, widely viewed as a success, the president frequently sidestepped the issue of the citizenship law.
He had said during his opening visit remarks Monday at Motera Stadium: “Your nation has always been admired around the Earth as the place where millions upon millions of Hindus and Muslims and Sikhs and Jains, Buddhists, Christians, and Jews worship side by side in harmony.” And further: “Your unity is an inspiration to the world.”
The country has seen months of protests over the citizenship law, but exploded into their worst violence upon Trump's visit.