Protests, prayers in Indian capital ahead of Trump's visit

RISHI LEKHI and ASHOK SHARMA
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APTOPIX India Trump Protest

Indian police detain members of Centre of Indian Trade Unions protesting against the visit of U.S. President Donald Trump to India, in Hyderabad, India, Monday, Feb. 24, 2020. India poured on the pageantry with a joyful, colorful welcome for President Donald Trump who on Monday kicked off a whirlwind 36-hour visit that emphasizes pageantry over policy and a mega-rally to reaffirm U.S.-India ties while providing enviable overseas imagery for a president in a re-election year. (AP Photo/Mahesh Kumar A.)

NEW DELHI (AP) — As President Donald Trump was being feted by Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi in the western Indian city of Ahmedabad on Monday, Hindu nationalist and communist groups held pro- and anti-U.S. street demonstrations in the capital.

One police officer was killed in the violence, police officer Anuj Kumar said. Eleven police officers also were injured as they were hit by rocks trying to separate rival groups, the New Delhi police control room said.

The Press Trust of India news agency said three protesters also were killed during clashes in several parts of the Indian capital. There was no confirmation by the police of the news report.

A group of Hindu nationalists held a prayer meeting in which they put a vermilion mark on the forehead of Trump’s photograph on a poster, blessing him, while a priest chanted Hindu hymns wishing Trump success in his endeavor for strong ties with India.

Vishnu Gupta, president of Hindu Sena, said “through a fire ritual we are invoking God to bless America and India.’’

He said he wanted Trump and Modi to fight radical Islam and the spread of terrorism.

Elsewhere in New Delhi, dozens of supporters of the Communist Party of India carried a banner reading "Trump go back." Anti-Trump street demonstrations also broke out in the cities of Gauhati in the northeast, Kolkata in the east and Hyderabad in the south.

Doraisamy Raja, the Communist Party's general secretary, accused Modi of succumbing to U.S. pressure on access to the Indian market rather than protecting India's interests.

American dairy farmers, distillers and drugmakers have been eager to break into India, the world’s seventh-biggest economy, but talks between Washington and New Delhi appeared to have fizzled.

Still, the two leaders are scheduled to announce agreements at a news conference on Tuesday, capping off Trump's two-day visit.

Also in New Delhi, police fired tear gas as clashes erupted between hundreds of supporters and opponents of a new citizenship law that provides fast-track naturalization for some foreign-born religious minorities but not Muslims.

Critics say the country is moving toward a religious citizenship test. At the rally in Ahmedabad, Trump praised India's history of religious tolerance, saying many faiths "worship side by side in harmony.”

The protesters were blocking a busy road in a northeastern district of New Delhi, replicating similar sit-ins in several parts of India since the law was passed in December.

Police used tear gas as the rival groups hurled rocks at each other in the area on Monday and set some houses, shops, vehicles and a petrol pump on fire. Police closed access to two metro stations in the area.

New Delhi's highest elected official, Arvind Kejriwal, tweeted that the violence was “very distressing.”

A 400-meter (about a quarter of a mile) stretch of road was strewn with bricks and stones after the clash.

The New Delhi television news channel said authorities deployed paramilitary forces to defuse the situation.