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Modi urges calm to New Delhi violence

Firefighters doused a fire at Gokul Puri tire market in New Delhi that was burned in Tuesday's sectarian violence.
Firefighters doused a fire at Gokul Puri tire market in New Delhi that was burned in Tuesday's sectarian violence.Altaf Qadri/Associated Press/Associated Press

NEW DELHI — As the death toll from sectarian violence that has convulsed India’s capital passed 20 on Wednesday, Prime Minister Narendra Modi called for a quick restoration of “calm and normalcy.”

“Peace and harmony are central to our ethos,’’ Modi said via Twitter, a day after hosting President Trump. “I appeal to my sisters and brothers of Delhi to maintain peace and brotherhood at all times.”

Streets that had been a battle zone were much quieter Wednesday, with a few sporadic attacks reported but no large-scale mayhem.

The weapons that police officers were carrying had been upgraded to assault rifles from sticks. The whiff of char, from scores of burned-out buildings, clung to the air.

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Mobs of Hindus and Muslims have been clashing since Sunday in a working-class area in the eastern reaches of the capital. Many Muslims have accused police of standing passively by while their homes and businesses were attacked by Hindus.

Doctors said that most of the people killed had died from gunshot wounds. Witnesses said that the firing came from the direction of police officers. The dead included both Muslims and Hindus.

The Indian government is controlled by a Hindu nationalist party that has been widely accused of marginalizing India’s Muslim minority, which, at 200 million, is one of the world’s largest Muslim populations.

Much of the blame for the violence is falling on Kapil Mishra, a local politician from Modi’s political party.

On Sunday, Mishra threatened to mobilize a mob to clear out protesters who have been demonstrating against a new citizenship law, which is widely seen as discriminating against Muslims. Mishra said he did not want to create trouble during Trump’s two-day trip.

But Mishra warned police that as soon as Trump left India on Tuesday, his followers would take action against the protesters, who were mostly Muslim women, if police did not.

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As Sunday evening approached, gangs of Hindu and Muslim men began throwing rocks at each other. This quickly degenerated into wider violence.

At a court hearing Wednesday, a judge pressed police officials about why they had not watched the videos of Mishra’s speech, in which he gave police the ultimatum to take action. The speech has been widely viewed on social media.

“This is really concerning,” Justice S. Muralidhar said, according to LiveLaw, a legal news website. “There are so many TVs in your office; how can a police officer say that he hasn’t watched the videos? I’m really appalled by the state of affairs of Delhi police.”

Muralidhar then ordered Mishra’s speech to be played in court and said: “Let all of you watch it.’”

Many Muslims are now abandoning their homes in areas hit by the violence. Their houses, shops, and places of worship have been reduced to ashes. In the Panchwa Pusta neighborhood, several witnesses said police officers had shielded Hindu rioters, fired at Muslims crowds, and failed to act when rioters set a mosque on fire.

Asgar Ali, whose grocery shop was set on fire Tuesday, said there was no difference between police officers and Hindu mobs. He said he was fleeing his home, where he has lived for 20 years, knowing that he might never return.

“I built this house with my blood and sweat. Now I have been reduced to a homeless pauper,” Ali said. “I have lost everything.”

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