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NEW DELHI/BENGALURU : Protests against the controversial Citizenship Amendment Act (CAA) swept through the nation on Thursday after massive demonstrations erupted in all the major cities and several small towns. Three protesters were killed in police firing in Karnataka and Uttar Pradesh.

As the protests that began in the morning continued into the night, home minister Amit Shah summoned a meeting of top government officials to discuss the law and order situation in the country.

A day of high drama
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A day of high drama

Authorities had already swung into action in the morning with a major crackdown in Delhi, where internet services were suspended in some parts after protests started. The lockdown in Delhi was extensive—apart from internet services, Metro stations were shut down in at least 18 different places.

Protesters initially gathered at Red Fort, but as the day progressed, the focus shifted to Jantar Mantar which became the epicentre of protests in the national capital. Prohibitory orders were imposed in some parts of Delhi while similar restrictions were also enforced across Uttar Pradesh and Karnataka.

The protests against the citizenship law, which began a week ago in Assam and elsewhere in the North-East, have now taken a pan-India shape. During the day on Thursday, protests were held in several cities in seven different states of the country, besides Delhi and the Union territory of Chandigarh.

Protests and demonstrations cropped up in some areas of Bengaluru in spite of attempts by the police to clear small groups from a few locations during the first half of Thursday. But several of those detained and released a few kilometers away made their way back to protest sites near Town Hall where crowds had slowly swelled up through the day.

Two people were killed in police firing in the communally sensitive district of Mangaluru. Chief minister B.S. Yediyurappa said the incident was unfortunate and held meetings with prominent Muslim clerics and other representatives to contain the spread of violence.

Historian Ramchandra Guha was also among those who were detained on Thursday in Bengaluru.

“We are protesting against this totally discriminatory Act that is against our Constitution and also against this (Section) 144 (prohibitory orders). Are we a colonial regime?" Guha asked, pointing out that the criminal law was used by the British to suppress Mahatma Gandhi’s freedom movement. “We are for values of pluralism and democracy," he said.

During the protests in Delhi, Swaraj Abhiyan president Yogendra Yadav was detained by the police in the morning, but he urged people to continue protests peacefully.

“One day we might be grateful to @narendramodi and @AmitShah for they brought the whole of India together through protests like today’s. One day we shall feel proud that we registered our voice against this unconstitutional law," Yadav tweeted.

Also detained in Delhi were senior Left leaders Sitaram Yechury, general secretary of the Communist Party of India (Marxist) and D. Raja of the Communist Party of India.

Azad Maidan in Mumbai was swamped by massive gathering of protesters. Demonstrations were also witnessed in Hyderabad at People’s Plaza in Necklace Road, which is close to the Tank Bund. Earlier in the day, there was tension in the city when police took close to 100 people in custody for trying to participate in a protest called by Left parties.

The escalating popular protests forced the government to issue clarifications on CAA and the related National Register of Citizens. The home ministry tweeted that the provisions of CAA do not apply to Indians.

“In the last six years, 2,830 Pakistani, 912 Afghani and 172 Bangladeshi citizens have been given Indian citizenship. Many of them are from majority community of these countries. Such migrants of the majority community of neighbouring countries shall continue to get Indian citizenship if they fulfil the eligibility conditions," the home ministry tweeted.

Thursday also saw the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) and opposition parties continue to blame each other for the violence surrounding the protests.

“Some political parties are fuelling protests against Citizenship Amendment Act. They are inciting women, students and others in the name of religion," said G. Kishan Reddy, minister of state for home affairs.

From the opposition ranks, West Bengal chief minister and Trinamool Congress chief Mamata Banerjee continued her rallies for the fourth consecutive day in Kolkata.

“Just because the BJP has got majority doesn’t mean that they can do whatever they want," Banerjee said at a rally in Kolkata.

Congress president Sonia Gandhi held a meeting of her party’s top brass at her residence in the evening to discuss the ongoing protests.

“I think the union government is missing an opportunity for coming out and clarifying on the issue, respond to apprehensions of people at large. They are using the age-old, outdated method of blaming it on the opposition or anti-social elements; that narrative is not expected from them," said N. Bhaskara Rao, a New Delhi-based political analyst.

Yunus Y. Lasania from Hyderabad and PTI contributed to the story.

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