Death toll rises to 32 in religious violence in India’s capital

Relatives and neighbors wail in front of the body of Mohammad Mudasir, 31, who was killed in communal violence in New Delhi, India, Thursday, Feb. 27, 2020. India accused a U.S. government commission of politicizing communal violence in New Delhi that killed at least 30 people and injured more than 200 as President Donald Trump was visiting the country. (AP)
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Updated 27 February 2020

Death toll rises to 32 in religious violence in India’s capital

  • Uneasy calm prevailing in northeast Delhi
  • Modi government blames opposition for violence

NEW DELHI: At least 32 people have been killed in the deadliest violence to engulf India’s capital New Delhi for decades as a heavy deployment of security forces brought an uneasy calm on Thursday, a police official said.
The violence began over a disputed new citizenship law on Monday but led to clashes between Muslims and Hindus in which hundreds were injured. Many suffered gunshot wounds, while arson, looting and stone-throwing has also taken place.
“The death count is now at 32,” Delhi police spokesman Anil Mittal said, adding the “entire area is peaceful now.”
At the heart of the unrest is a citizenship law which makes it easier for non-Muslims from some neighboring Muslim-dominated countries to gain Indian citizenship.
UN human rights chief Michelle Bachelet said the new law adopted last December is of “great concern” and she was worried by reports of police inaction in the face of assaults against Muslims by other groups.
“I appeal to all political leaders to prevent violence,” Bachelet said in a speech to the UN Human Rights Council in Geneva.
Critics say the law is biased against Muslims and undermines India’s secular constitution.
Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s Hindu nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party has denied having any prejudice against India’s 180 million Muslims, saying that law is required to help persecuted minorities.
New Delhi has been the epicenter for protests against the new law, with students and large sections of the Muslim community leading the protests.
As the wounded were brought to hospitals on Thursday, the focus shifted on the overnight transfer of Justice S. Muralidhar, a Delhi High Court judge who was hearing a petition into the riots and had criticized government and police inaction on Wednesday.
Law minister Ravi Shankar Prasad said the transfer was routine and had been recommended by the Supreme Court collegium earlier this month.
Opposition Congress party leader Manish Tiwari said every lawyer and judge in India should strongly protest what he called a crude attempt to intimidate the judiciary.
Information and Broadcasting Minister Prakash Javadekar said inflammatory speeches at the protests over the new citizenship law in the last few months and the tacit support of some opposition leaders was behind the violence.
“The investigation is on,” he said.
Prime Minister Narendra Modi, who romped to re-election last May, also withdrew Jammu and Kashmir’s autonomy in August with the objective of tightening New Delhi’s grip on the restive region, which is also claimed by full by Pakistan.
For months the government imposed severe restrictions in Kashmir including cutting telephone and Internet lines, while keeping hundreds of people, including mainstream political leaders, in custody for fear that they could whip up mass protests. Some restrictions have since been eased.
Bachelet said the Indian government continued to impose excessive restrictions on the use of social media in the region, even though some political leaders have been released, and ordinary life may be returning to normal in some respects.


Virus pain easing in Spain, Italy; UK braces for bleak days

Updated 43 min 30 sec ago

Virus pain easing in Spain, Italy; UK braces for bleak days

  • The two countries, Italy and Spain, that have suffered more virus deaths than anywhere else in Europe are starting to see their crisis ease
  • Britain’s outbreak was headed in the opposite direction as the country reported more than 600 deaths Sunday

MADRID: A week ago, emergency rooms and intensive care wards in Spain and Italy were overflowing with woozy, coughing coronavirus patients and literally buzzing with breathing machines.
So many died that Barcelona crematories have a waiting list of up to two years, forcing some people to bury loved ones temporarily in cemeteries with the expectation of exhuming them for cremation later on.
But now the two countries that have suffered more virus deaths than anywhere else in Europe are starting to see their crisis ease, while Britain, where the prime minister has been hospitalized, seems headed in the opposite direction.
Between them, Italy and Spain saw nearly 30,000 deaths and 265,000 confirmed infections in the pandemic. They, and other European countries that locked down weeks ago and ramped up testing, are now seeing the benefits.
Britain’s outbreak was headed in the opposite direction as the country reported more than 600 deaths Sunday, surpassing Italy’s daily increase for the second day in a row.
“I think that we are just a week away from the surge of this,” the deputy chief executive of Britain’s NHS Providers, Saffron Cordery, told Sky News.
In Spain, deaths and new infections dropped again on Monday. The health ministry reported 637 new fatalities, the lowest toll in 13 days, for a total of over 13,000 dead. New recorded infections were the lowest in two weeks.
Emergency rooms in the hard-hit Madrid region of 6.6 million were returning almost to normal a week after scenes of patients sleeping on floors and in chairs.
Patients awaiting treatment in Madrid-area ERs went down Monday to 390 cases, one-tenth of the arrivals last week, the regional government said. The number of people being treated for coronavirus in intensive care stabilized at about 1,500 for five straight days.
Transport, Mobility and Urban Affairs Minister José Luis Ábalos said the figures show Spain is entering “a new phase of the battle.”
“This new phase does not mean we can let down our guard. We are assessing the measures that we will need to adopt,” Ábalos said.
At the San Carlos Clinic Hospital in Madrid, nearly 15% of the hospital’s 1,400-strong staff contracted the coronavirus, in line with the national average,
“Our priority at the moment is to bring health workers back to work,” said Dr. Julio Mayol, the facility’s medical director.
Still, there are fears for a new outbreak as Spanish authorities begin talking about loosening the grip on mandatory confinement, and the strain on hospitalizations will still be seen for another week while that in intensive care units for another two weeks, Mayol said.
Italy still has, by far, the world’s highest coronavirus death toll — almost 16,000 — but the pressure on northern Italy’s ICUs has eased so much that Lombardy is no longer airlifting patients to other regions.
In the northern city of Bergamo, one of Europe’s virus epicenters, hospital staff were still pulling long, difficult shifts even if the numbers of new patients had eased a bit.
“There has been no reduction in the work,” said Maria Berardelli, a nursing coordinator at Pope John XXIII hospital. “There have been fewer admissions to the emergency room, but our intensive care units are still full, so the activity hasn’t been reduced.”
In a public housing project in the city of Seville, 90-year-old Manuela Jiménez has been confined to her home for more than 20 days. She speaks to neighbors from her window as they deliver food and says she has never seen anything like it, despite having lived through the Spanish Civil War and Second World War.
“Back then my mother would lock me up and I would stay calm but now, look, there is my neighbor and I can’t see her”, says Jiménez.
Illness has been compounded by shocking economic pain as all the world’s largest economies have ground to a halt, including in Italy and Spain. In France, which slightly trails its two neighbors to the south in deaths and infections, the government shut the country down two days after Italy — and has also seen a slight easing.
The UK initially resisted taking some of the tough measures seen in other European countries, which banned large events, shut schools and closed their borders to slow the spread of the COVID-19 illness.
The government’s first advice was that people should wash their hands frequently. As the number of cases soared, the response escalated to include the closure of schools, bars, restaurants and non-essential shops and a nationwide order for everyone but key workers to stay home.
Now, Austria and the Czech Republic are openly discussing how to ease some of the crippling restrictions. Austria’s chancellor said the plan is to let small shops and garden centers reopen next week, with limits on the number of customers inside, and the rest on May 1. The Czech government is proposing an end to the ban on travel abroad as of April 14 and the reopening of small stores.