India protests spread over ‘anti-Muslim’ law

On Sunday evening thousands took to the streets in the northeast and other protests were reported across India in Delhi, Aligarh, Hyderabad, Mumbai, Patna and Raipur. (File/AFP)
Short Url
Updated 16 December 2019

India protests spread over ‘anti-Muslim’ law

  • The new bill fast-tracks citizenship for non-Muslim immigrants from three neighboring countries
  • Four buses and two police vehicles were reportedly set ablaze during protests

NEW DELHI: Fresh protests were expected across India on Monday over a new citizenship law seen as anti-Muslim, after clashes overnight in the capital and days of unrest in the northeast that left six people dead.
The bill fast-tracks citizenship for non-Muslim immigrants from three neighboring countries, but critics allege it is part of Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s Hindu nationalist agenda to marginalize India’s 200 million Muslims — something he denies.
On Sunday evening thousands took to the streets in the northeast, the scene of days of rioting and deadly running battles with police, while other protests were reported across India in Delhi, Aligarh, Hyderabad, Mumbai, Patna and Raipur.
In the capital, officers fired tear gas and charged with batons as several thousand demonstrators marched, and rallied outside the Jamia Millia Islamia university and police headquarters. Four buses and two police vehicles were reportedly set ablaze.
Police stormed the university campus, with media outlets reporting as many as 100 students and a dozen officers were injured.
Around 50 people were detained and released after a night behind bars on Monday, police said.
Students insisted in a statement that they disassociated themselves from any violence.
“We have time and again maintained that our protests are peaceful and non-violent. We stand by this approach and condemn any party involved in the violence,” they declared.
Authorities in northern Uttar Pradesh have snapped Internet access in western parts of the state following the demonstrations on Aligarh, home to a large university and a sizeable Muslim population.
However, the main epicenter of the protests has been in India’s far-flung northeastern states, long a seething and violent melting pot of ethnic tensions.
Their people are opposed to the citizenship law because they fear it will allow several hundred thousand immigrants from Bangladesh, many of them Hindu, to stay.
On Sunday night in Assam state — following days of rioting and clashes with police that have left six people dead — around 6,000 people protested on Sunday evening, with no major incidents reported.
The UN human rights office said last week it was concerned the law “would appear to undermine the commitment to equality before the law enshrined in India’s constitution.”
Modi on Sunday blamed the main opposition Congress party and its allies for the unrest, while Home Minister Amit Shah called again for calm.
“Culture, language, social identity and political rights of our brothers and sisters from the northeast will remain intact,” Shah said in a speech.
The new law is being challenged in the Supreme Court by rights groups and a Muslim political party, arguing that it is against the constitution and India’s secular traditions.


China’s president vows ‘new era’ of Myanmar ties

Updated 18 January 2020

China’s president vows ‘new era’ of Myanmar ties

  • Xi is expected to sign a series of deals

NAYPYIDAW: Chinese President Xi Jinping vowed to usher in a “new era” of ties with Myanmar after a red carpet welcome Friday on a state visit aimed at buttressing the embattled government of Aung San Suu Kyi and driving through multibillion-dollar infrastructure deals.

Myanmar fighter jets escorted Xi’s plane as it touched down in Naypyidaw where children presented him with flowers, according to China’s official Xinhua news agency, as he was whisked off to a greeting party.

In addition to being its largest investor, China has become an indispensable ally for Myanmar as it reels from Western isolation over the Rohingya crisis.

But widespread mistrust of Beijing’s ambitions and its influence over armed insurgencies in areas bordering the two countries threaten to undermine the bond.

Xi told Myanmar leaders he was “convinced that the concerted efforts of our two sides will make this visit a success and take the bilateral ties to a new level and into a new era,” Xinhua reported.

During the trip he is expected to sign a series of mammoth infrastructure deals as part of China’s Belt and Road Initiative.

The centerpiece of the so-called China-Myanmar Economic Corridor (CMEC) is a $1.3 billion deep-sea port at Kyaukphyu in central Rakhine state, giving Beijing a gateway to the Indian Ocean.

A high-speed rail link is also on the cards to connect the port and nearby planned industrial zone with the countries’ shared border.

Bilateral trade was worth $16.8 billion last year and Beijing holds the biggest share — around $4 billion or 40 percent — of Myanmar’s foreign debt.

Billions of cubic meters of gas and millions of barrels of oil from offshore rigs are pumped each year across the country into China.

“The next one, two, three decades will be defined by Myanmar’s relationship with China,” said Yangon-based analyst Richard Horsey.

Xi will sit down with Suu Kyi and army chief Min Aung Hlaing in separate meetings on Saturday.

Ahead of the visit Suu Kyi made a rare appearance in Kachin state on the border with China.

Kachin is the site of a planned Chinese-backed $3.6 billion, 6,000 megawatt dam that was mothballed in 2011 in the face of vociferous criticism across the country.

This is thought to have been a personal slight to Xi, who signed off on the Myitsone dam with Myanmar’s then-military junta as vice president in 2009.

Activists are expected to protest in the commercial hub Yangon on Saturday against any reinstatement of the project.

Economic interests aside, Myanmar’s relationship with the superpower has other benefits.

In an op-ed in Myanmar’s state-run media this week, Xi said China supports Myanmar in “safeguarding its legitimate rights and interests and national dignity.”

China shields Myanmar at the United Nations, where pressure is mounting for accountability over the treatment of Rohingya Muslims.

Suu Kyi personally defended her nation against accusations of genocide at the UN’s top court last month after a 2017 military crackdown forced 740,000 Rohingya over the border into Bangladesh.

The alleged atrocities took place in Rakhine, which has since descended into a civil war between the military and an ethnic Rakhine rebel group.

Myanmar has nonetheless declared the state open for business.

While many Western investors are steering clear, China — competing against other regional giants — has few such qualms.

“Xi’s visit will amplify concerns the West is losing Myanmar to China,” said Horsey.

Domestically, Suu Kyi needs economic wins as well as diplomatic support as she heads toward elections due at the end of this year.

Xi’s visit has triggered mixed reactions.

A number of key militant groups — known to be under the shadowy influence of Beijing — welcomed the summit.

But a plethora of activists spoke out against China’s projects and Amnesty International weighed in, decrying the “absolute lack of transparency.”

Rakhine locals, meanwhile, fear they will again be overlooked after previous Beijing-backed infrastructure projects left many without land or livelihoods.

“They didn’t bring any benefits for us, not even any jobs,” Moe Moe Aye from Kyaukphyu SEZ Watch Group said.