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article imageUS urges India to allow peaceful assembly after riots

By AFP     Feb 27, 2020 in World

The United States on Thursday urged India to respect the right to peaceful assembly and called on all sides to refrain from violence after sectarian riots in Delhi killed at least 33 people.

In a cautious statement, the top US diplomat for South Asia sought to show little distance with Prime Minister Narendra Modi, who was welcoming President Donald Trump on a visit when the violence erupted.

"We echo (Modi's) call for calm and normalcy and urge all parties to maintain peace, refrain from violence and respect the right of peaceful assembly," Assistant Secretary of State Alice Wells wrote on Twitter.

Trump had declined comment when asked at a news conference in New Delhi about the violence, saying the issue was "up to India" and hailing Modi's "incredible" statements to him on religious freedom.

Bernie Sanders, the Democratic front-runner seeking to challenge Trump in November elections, denounced Trump's response to the "widespread anti-Muslim mob violence."

"Trump responds by saying, 'That's up to India.' That is a failure of leadership on human rights," Sanders tweeted.

India has seen mass protests after Modi's Hindu nationalist government pushed forward a controversial citizenship law, which critics say excludes Muslims in the officially secular nation.

Witnesses said that police initially did little to intervene as mobs fought running battles, with groups armed with swords and guns setting fire to thousands of properties and vehicles.

The US Commission on International Religious Freedom, which advises the government but does not set policy, criticized the Indian response, voicing alarm at reports of police inaction.

"We urge the Indian government to take serious efforts to protect Muslims and others targeted by mob violence," Tony Perkins, the chair of the commission and a Trump ally, said in a statement Wednesday.

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