Indian president signs citizenship bill into law despite protests

Indian president signs citizenship bill into law despite protests
Indian president signs citizenship bill into law despite protests

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Hind Al Soulia - Riyadh - India's divisive citizenship bill was signed into law on Thursday despite widespread protests in the country's north-east that could force the cancellation of a visit by Japan's Prime Minister Shinzo Abe.

Two people were killed and 11 injured in Assam state when police opened fire on mobs torching buildings and attacking railway stations. Protesters say the citizenship law would convert thousands of illegal immigrants into legal residents.

The new law opens Indian citizenship to six minority religious groups from the neighbouring countries of Bangladesh, Pakistan and Afghanistan.

Indian President Ram Nath Kovind gave his assent to the bill late on Thursday, signing it into law, an official statement said.

Prime Minister Narendra Modi planned to host Mr Abe at a meeting in Assam next week as part of a campaign to move high-profile diplomatic events outside Delhi to showcase India's diversity.

Japan's Jiji Press reported on Friday that Mr Abe is considering cancelling his trip. India's foreign ministry said it was not in a position to comment on the visit, which was planned for December 15-17.

A movement against immigrants from neighbouring Bangladesh has raged in Assam for decades. Protesters say granting Indian nationality to more people will further strain the resources of the tea-growing state and lead to the marginalisation of indigenous communities.

Japan has stepped up infrastructure development work in Assam in recent years which the two sides were expected to highlight during the summit. Mr Abe had also planned to visit a memorial in the nearby state of Manipur where Japanese soldiers were killed during the Second World War.

Critics of Mr Modi's Hindu nationalist government say the bigger problem with the new law is that it is the first time India is using religion as a criterion for granting citizenship and that it excludes Muslims from its ambit.

The law seeks to grant Indian nationality to Buddhists, Christians, Hindus, Jains, Parsis and Sikhs who fled the three Muslim-majority neighbouring countries before 2015.

The Indian Union Muslim League party has petitioned the Supreme Court saying the law was in conflict with the secular principles of India's constitution that guaranteed equality to all without any regard to religion. No date has yet been set for the hearings.

The party said the law is "prima facie communal" and questioned the exclusion of minorities such as Rohingya Muslims who were just as persecuted as other faiths listed in the law.

Updated: December 13, 2019 11:54 AM

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