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NEW DELHI: Indian Police have opened fire on hundreds of protesters in southern India on Thursday, as fresh violence erupted around the country over a controversial citizenship act.
The fatalities brought to eight the death toll from more than a week of unrest and came as authorities shut down internet and text messaging for tens of millions in India’s most populous state.
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In the southern city of Mangalore, two men identified as Abdul Jalil, 49, and Shamshir Kudroli, 23, “died in police firing during the protests”, Qadir Shah, a spokesman for the deputy commissioner, told media. He said a curfew had been imposed in the city with schools, restaurants and bars shut.
A third fatality was also reportedly linked to protests in the northern state of Uttar Pradesh, where a man was hospitalized in Lucknow with a gunshot injury and died soon after, a hospital source told reporters.
Police did not confirm the death, but his father told the Times of India his son was shot after getting caught in a crowd of protesters while out to buy groceries.
Four others were being treated at a hospital in Mangalore “with bullet injuries following the clashes”, a district medical officer told media.
Deadly protests have broken out across India over a new law easing citizenship rules for people fleeing persecution from three neighbouring countries but not for Muslims.
Seven months after Modi swept to a second term, the law has stoked accusations at home and abroad that he wants to reshape India as a Hindu nation, which he denies. The past week had already seen six people killed and dozens injured in the northeastern state of Assam.
On Thursday, authorities had banned gatherings across swathes of the world´s biggest democracy including all of Uttar Pradesh and Bangalore, areas of the northeast and parts of Bihar, New Delhi, Hyderabad and Chennai.
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But that did not prevent tens of thousands from taking their anger onto the streets. In Mangalore, Shah said police fired their weapons after some 200 demonstrators refused to stop their march.
“They marched towards the busiest area of Mangalaru. This led to lathi (big, wooden sticks) charge. Then the tear gas was fired. When the protestors still didn’t stop, the police had to open fire after that,” he said, using an alternate name for the city.
Security forces and protesters also clashed in the states of Karnataka and Modi’s home state where police said they baton-charged demonstrators and arrested 50 people.