World

Trump refuses comment on India citizenship law, as protests leave at least 10 dead

Defending the host who has showered him with pageantry, President Donald Trump refuses to speak out publicly against an Indian citizenship law pushed by Prime Minister Narendra Modi that has sparked deadly protests over discrimination against Muslims during the president's visit.

In final full day of visit, Trump attends ceremonial events and economic talks

U.S. President Donald Trump sprays flower petals during a wreath laying ceremony at Mahatma Gandhi's memorial at Raj Ghat in New Delhi. At a news conference later, Trump steered clear of India's controversial citizenship law other than to say that Prime Minister Narendra Modi supports religious freedom. (Al Drago/Reuters)

Defending the host who has showered him with pageantry, President Donald Trump refused Tuesday to speak out publicly against an Indian citizenship law pushed by Prime Minister Narendra Modi that has sparked deadly protests over discrimination against Muslims during the president's visit.

With at least 10 people killed in violent protests during his two-day visit, Trump told reporters that he didn't want to discuss the amendment that provides fast-track naturalization for some foreign-born religious minorities but not Muslims. The law is raising fears the country is inching nearer to a religious citizenship test.

Trump declined to comment on the new law. "I don't want to discuss that. I want to leave that to India and hopefully they're going to make the right decision for the people," he said.

The tiptoeing came as Trump was winding up a 36-hour visit to the subcontinent in which he was showered with praise at a mega rally in Ahmedabad, toured the majestic Taj Mahal, and held talks with Modi. Cities were plastered with billboards heralding Trump's arrival, and his travel routes were lined with enthusiastic crowds.

As Trump as being feted, at least 10 people were killed and 150 injured in two days of clashes between supporters and opponents of the new citizenship amendment, police spokesperson Anil Kumar said.

A police officer was killed in Monday's violence after he was hit by rocks, Kumar said.

Indian police move past smoldering debris after it was set on fire by demonstrators in a riot affected area after fresh clashes erupted between people demonstrating for and against a new citizenship law in New Delhi on Tuesday. (Danish Siddiqui/Reuters)

On Tuesday, an angry group of Hindus carrying pickaxes and iron rods hurled rocks at Muslims. Protesters in several areas of northeast Delhi threw stones and set shops and vehicles on fire.

Black smoke rose into the sky after protesters set fruit and vegetable shops and a Muslim shrine on fire in the Bhajanpur area in New Delhi's northeast, witnesses said.

The group of Hindus roamed the area shouting praises to Hindu gods and goddesses. Police fired tear gas to disperse both them and a group of rival Muslims. They retreated to the two sides of a highway.

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

Asked about the protests during a press conference before his departure, Trump said he had raised the issue of religious freedom with Modi and that the prime minister was "incredible" on the subject.

"He wants people to have religious freedom," said Trump, without elaborating. The president himself proposed temporarily barring all Muslims from entering the U.S. during his 2016 campaign and successfully implemented a travel ban that targets travellers from certain majority-Muslim countries.

A man pushes his damaged scooter past a burning petrol pump during a clash between people supporting a new citizenship law and those opposing it, in New Delhi, on Monday. (Danish Siddiqui/Reuters)

Also Tuesday, protesters in several other areas of northeastern New Delhi defied orders prohibiting the assembly of more than five people and threw stones and set some shops and vehicles on fire, a police officer said. Some homes were attacked with rocks.

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.

Trade talk short on specifics

Trump spent much of Tuesday meeting with Modi, as well as some Indian business leaders. He 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," 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 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.

The day began with an elaborate welcome ceremony in front of the grand Rashtrapati Bhavan Presidential Palace in New Delhi, continuing the pomp and pageantry the Indian government had lavished on Trump a day earlier.

U.S. President Donald Trump and wife Melania departed on Air Force One late Tuesday from Air Force Palam airport in New Delhi, India. (Alex Brandon/The Associated Press)

Cannons fired as the president's armoured car rolled through the palace gates accompanied by red-uniformed guards on horseback. The ceremony included hundreds of military officials, marching with instruments and swords, as well as an official greeting by India's president and Modi.

On Tuesday, Trump and his wife Melania participated in a wreath-laying ceremony at Raj Ghat, a memorial to Mohandas Gandhi in New Delhi at the site where the famed Indian independence leader was cremated after his assassination in January 1948.

"The last two days were amazing in every sense of the word," Trump said, describing the trip as "unforgettable," "extraordinary" and an expression of "love."

Trump ended his visit with a state banquet at the opulent presidential palace in New Delhi that featured a menu with American-friendly twists on traditional Indian dishes before boarding his flight back to the U.S.

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