1,200 detained in India amid ban on citizenship law protests

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Pigeons fly past as Indians march during a protest against the Citizenship Act in Mumbai, India, Wednesday, Dec. 18, 2019. India's Supreme Court on Wednesday postponed hearing pleas challenging the constitutionality of the new citizenship law that has sparked opposition and massive protests across the country. (AP Photo/Rajanish Kakade)

NEW DELHI – Police detained more than 1,200 protesters in some of India's biggest cities Thursday after they defied bans on assembly that authorities imposed to stop widespread demonstrations against a new citizenship law that opponents say threatens the country's secular democracy.

At least three people were reported killed as protests raged around the country despite the bans as opposition increased to the law, which excludes Muslims. The legislation has sparked anger at what many see as the government's push to bring India closer to a Hindu state.

Authorities erected road blocks and disrupted internet and phone services, including in parts of New Delhi, and tightened restrictions on protesters in the northeastern border state of Assam, where the protests began last week.

A curfew was imposed in parts of Mangalore, a city in southern Karnataka state, after police fired warning shots and used tear gas and batons to disperse a large group of protesters.

At least two people were killed during clashes with police, the Press Trust of India news agency said late Thursday. Details were not immediately available because top police officers could not be reached by phone.

Protesters also clashed with police in parts of Lucknow, the state capital of northern Uttar Pradesh state, where police said one person died from a gunshot fired by someone among the protesters. The protesters torched a bus, hurled rocks at police and damaged some police posts and vehicles, police officer Vikas Dubey said.

The new citizenship law applies to Hindus, Christians and other religious minorities who are in India illegally but can demonstrate religious persecution in Muslim-majority Bangladesh, Pakistan and Afghanistan. It does not apply to Muslims.

Critics say it's the latest effort by Prime Minister Narendra Modi's Hindu nationalist-led government to marginalize India's 200 million Muslims, and a violation of the country's secular constitution.