Trump focuses on trade amid India's citizenship law protests

As President Trump tours the Indian capital, hundreds of supporters and protestors of the new citizenship law that excludes Muslims clashed in the streets. The U.S. president is keeping the focus of his trip on sealing a trade deal with India.

Mahesh Kumar A./AP
Indian police detain protestors as new clashes erupted on Feb. 25, 2020, in the streets of New Delhi between Hindus and Muslims in response to India's new citizenship law. President Donald Trump is visiting India this week to lay the groundwork for a trade deal.

Defending the host who has showered him with pomp and pageantry, President Donald Trump refused Tuesday to speak out publicly against a controversial new Indian citizenship law pushed by Prime Minister Narendra Modi that has sparked deadly protests over discrimination against Muslims.

Asked about the law one day after violence in the Indian capital, Mr. Trump told reporters: “I don't want to discuss that. I want to leave that to India.”

New violence erupted in the Indian capital on Tuesday, a day after at least seven people, including a police officer, were killed and more than 100 others were reportedly injured in clashes between hundreds of supporters and opponents of the new citizenship law, police said.

India has been rocked by protests since Parliament approved a new citizenship law in December that provides fast-track naturalization for some foreign-born religious minorities but not Muslims.

Critics say the country is moving toward a religious citizenship test. At a massive rally in Ahmedabad after Mr. Trump's arrival on Monday, the president praised India's history of religious tolerance, saying many faiths "worship side by side in harmony."

Since last year’s election handed Mr. Modi and his Bharatiya Janata Party another term in power, many Indians feared a resurgence of communal violence across the country, sparked by Hindu triumphalism and Muslim desperation, according to The New York Times. Until now, however, most of the demonstrations remained peaceful.

Indian Muslims who had looked on in despair at win after win for Mr. Modi’s Hindu nationalist base were galvanized by the new law to demonstrate, joined by human rights activists, academics, and those worried about the country’s direction, The New York Times reported.

Tuesday, an angry group of Hindus carrying pickaxes and iron rods roamed the Bhajanpur area of northeastern New Delhi shouting praises to Hindu gods and goddesses as they threw stones at a rival group, mainly Muslims, that opposed the new law. Police fired tear gas to disperse the two groups, who retreated to the two sides of a highway, according to The Associated Press.

Black smoke rose into the sky after protesters set fruit and vegetable shops and a Muslim shrine on fire, witnesses told The Associated Press.

The clashes occurred as U.S. President Donald Trump held talks with Mr. Modi on the second day of a visit to India.

Mr. Trump spent much of Tuesday meeting with Mr. Modi and emerged saying he was optimistic about the prospects of ultimately completing a trade deal with India despite moves by both sides that created doubt about the ability to reach an agreement. He offered few details about what was discussed.

“Our teams have made tremendous progress on a comprehensive trade agreement and I'm optimistic we can reach a deal that will be of great importance to both countries,” Mr. Trump told reporters. He said that if a deal happens, it will likely be “towards the end of the year.”

The two countries have been engaged in a trade standoff since Mr. Trump imposed tariffs on Indian steel and aluminum exports. India responded with higher penalties on U.S. agricultural goods and restrictions on medical devices, prompting the U.S. to strip India of its decades-old trade preferences.

Mr. Modi’s government had choreographed Mr. Trump’s visit as a demonstration of India’s rising stature on the world stage, seeking to turn the page on months of street protests against Mr. Modi that organizers said were aimed at preserving India’s foundation as a secular democracy in the face of what they see as an attempt by Mr. Modi and his allies to turn India into a Hindu state, according to The New York Times.

The police officer, who spoke on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to talk to reporters, said the situation was tense but under control. Police and paramilitary forces sent reinforcements to quell the clashes, according to The Associated Press.

The New Delhi Television news channel said more than 100 people had been injured in clashes since Monday. Police spokesman Anil Kumar confirmed seven deaths on Monday, but said he didn't have the number of people injured in Tuesday's violence.

Also Monday, Hindu nationalist and communist groups held pro- and anti-U.S. street demonstrations in the capital.

This story was reported by The Associated Press. Material from The New York Times was used in this report. 

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