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India faces third day of unrest over citizenship bill

By Clyde Hughes
India faces third day of unrest over citizenship bill
People take part in a peaceful protest against a  citizenship bill Thursday in Guwahati, Assam, India. Those protests continued into Friday. Photo by EPA-EFE

Dec. 13 (UPI) -- Opponents of an Indian citizenship law that excludes Muslims protested in the country's northeastern states for the third straight day Friday as Japan's prime minister canceled a trip to the country.

India's Parliament passed the law Wednesday with the support of Prime Minister Narendra Modi. The bill grants Indian citizenship for non-Muslims fleeing Afghanistan, Bangladesh and Pakistan, offering them sanctuary from religious persecution, supporters said.

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Thousands defied a curfew Friday to hold a daylong hunger strike in Guwahati while hundreds more marched in Shillong in the border state of Meghalaya. Protesters staged various rallies in the states of Tripura, Manipur, Nagaland and Arunachal Pradesh as well.

Demonstrators charged that the act violates India's secular standards and discriminates against Muslims.

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Jeremy Laurence, a spokesman for the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights, said Friday that the law appeared to undermine India's own constitution and will have a discriminatory effect against Muslims there.

"The amended legislation seeks to expedite citizenship for religious minorities, naming specifically only Hindus, Sikhs, Buddhists, Jains, Parsis and Christians, fleeing persecution in Afghanistan, Bangladesh and Pakistan, who have been resident before 2014," Laurence said. "But it does not extend the same protection to Muslims, including minority sects."

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Modi tried to calm criticism of the law, saying on social media that it does not affect any Indian citizen and that "in line with our ethos of assimilation and compassion, it ensures a better life for persecuted minorities from other nations."

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Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe canceled a weekend trip to India because of the unrest.

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