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Controversial Citizenship Bill Sparks Violent Protests in Northeast India

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A demonstrator begs a police officer to allow them to proceed ahead during a protest against the Citizenship Amendment Bill (CAB) in Gauhati, India, Dec. 11, 2019.

India sent thousands of troops into the northeastern state of Assam Thursday to quell violent protests triggered by a new law that would make it easier for non-Muslims from some neighboring countries to gain citizenship.

Angry protesters defied a curfew imposed in the capital of Guwahati and elsewhere across Assam, setting cars and tires ablaze before being dispersed by security forces. Protesters also attacked the homes of members of India's ruling Bharatiya Janata (BJP) party.

Critics say the Citizenship Amendment Bill, which passed the upper house of Parliament Wednesday, would lead to a flood of immigrants into Assam and other northeast states, and would marginalize India's minority Muslims, which they claim is a goal of Prime Minister Narendra Modi and his Hindu nationalist government.

"I want to assure my brothers and sisters of Assam that they have nothing to worry after the passing of #CAB," Prime Minister Modi said in a statement posted on his Twitter account. "I want to assure them -- no one can take away your rights, unique identity and beautiful culture. It will continue to flourish and grow."

Opponents also say the bill is a ploy by Modi and the BJP to weaken the secular foundations of India’s democracy.

The bill will make six religious groups -- Hindus, Sikhs, Christians, Jains, Parsis and Buddhists -- who came to India from Pakistan, Bangladesh and Afghanistan before December 31, 2014, eligible for Indian citizenship. The government says it is intended to give sanctuary to minorities who fled religious persecution in these countries.

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