NEW DELHI: The death toll rose to 13 on Tuesday, with at least 150 injured, from some of the Indian capital’s worst sectarian violence in years as rampaging rioters in northeast Delhi set fire to buildings and vehicles and attacked journalists.
Protests against a contentious citizenship law began on a smaller scale Sunday but descended Monday into running battles between Hindus and Muslims, with rioters armed with stones, swords and even guns out in force.
Police on Tuesday imposed a restriction on large gatherings in the area as the violence continued, with reports of stone pelting and more structures set ablaze.
Media reports said police fired tear gas in an effort to disperse the rioters.
“I can now confirm 13 deaths. At least 150 people have come to our hospital with injuries,” Guru Teg Bahadur Hospital official Rajesh Kalra told AFP late Tuesday.
A dozen people were in critical condition, he added.
“We are still receiving some people with injuries, most of them firearm injuries today.”
The Press Trust of India (PTI) later cited hospital officials as saying more than 200 people had been hurt, around one-quarter of them police.
The riots coincided with the visit of US President Donald Trump, who held bilateral meetings with his Indian counterpart Narendra Modi elsewhere in the vast metropolis on Tuesday.
Officers set up roadblocks in riot-hit areas and cleared two northeast neighbourhoods of protesters, Delhi Police special commissioner Satish Golcha told AFP.
The capital’s Chief Minister Arvind Kejriwal, who visited the Guru Teg Bahadur Hospital, earlier pleaded for the “madness to stop”, according to PTI.
Delhi Police spokesman Mandeep Randhawa called on locals “not to take the law in their own hands”.
National Home Minister Amit Shah, whose ministry controls law and order in the capital region, met with senior Delhi government officials and promised to deploy more police if they were needed, Kejriwal said.
National Security Adviser Ajit Doval was in Delhi’s Seelampur district to inspect the area after the outbreak of violence, India Today television channel reported.
‘People are killing each other’
An AFP reporter saw at least 10 injured people admitted to Guru Teg Bahadur Hospital over a half-hour period, some claiming to have bullet wounds.
“Since yesterday, we’ve been calling the police to enforce a curfew, to send reinforcements,” Saurabh Sharma, a student from a riot-hit area who took his injured friend to the hospital, told AFP.
“But no one has come. There are only three policemen.”
“The protesters are attacking police wherever they are present and clashing among each other where the police aren’t there,” Senior policeman Alok Kumar told AFP earlier Tuesday.
One firefighter was injured by a stone and five fire trucks were damaged, PTI reported.
Broadcaster NDTV said three of its reporters and a cameraman were attacked by a mob on the northeastern fringe of the city of 20 million people.
“There is hardly any police presence in the area. Rioters are running around threatening people, vandalising shops,” a resident of the poor, migrant neighbourhood of Maujpur told PTI.
At Jaffrabad, one of the poorest neighbourhoods on the fringes of Delhi and home to shanty colonies, an AFP reporter saw locals turn off their lights and lock their doors amid a massive police presence.
Police manning barricades said mobs in the area were threatening journalists and that their officers had come under attack.
“People are killing (each other). Bullets are being fired here,” a tailor in Jaffrabad told AFP, adding that he was returning home to his village in northern Uttar Pradesh state.
“There is no work … It is better to leave than to stick around here. Why would we want to die here?”
The new citizenship law has raised worries abroad – including in Washington – that Modi wants to remould secular India into a Hindu nation while marginalising the country’s 200 million Muslims, a claim he denies.
After meetings with Modi, Trump said on Tuesday that the riots were an internal matter for India.
Global rights group Amnesty International tweeted that “political leaders in India who are fuelling hatred and creating a violent environment by making hate speeches must be immediately held accountable”.