A visit to India by Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe has been cancelled amid tensions in the country’s northeast region where he was due to hold summit talks with his counterpart Narendra Modi, the Indian foreign ministry said on Friday.
At least two people have been killed in Assam state on Thursday when police opened fire on crowds after protests against a new citizenship law, which will give citizenship to non-Muslim immigrants from neighbouring countries, turned violent.
The new law lays out a path of Indian citizenship for six minority religious groups, excluding Muslims, from Bangladesh, Pakistan and Afghanistan, which protesters in Assam say would convert thousands of undocumented immigrants into legal residents.
Protesters attacked the homes of Assam Chief Minister Sarbananda Sonowal and other members of the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) overnight, blaming them for playing politics in a region with a history of ethnic and religious tensions and opening the floodgates to more outsiders.
Modi had planned to host Abe in Assam from Sunday as part of a campaign to move high-profile diplomatic events outside New Delhi to showcase India’s diversity.
“With reference to the proposed visit of Japanese PM Abe Shinzo to India, both sides have decided to defer the visit,” Indian foreign ministry spokesman Raveesh Kumar said in a tweet.
With reference to the proposed visit of Japanese PM @AbeShinzo to India, both sides have decided to defer the visit to a mutually convenient date in the near future.
— Anurag Srivastava (@MEAIndia) December 13, 2019
Japan has stepped up infrastructure development work in Assam in recent years, which the two sides were expected to highlight during the summit. Abe had also planned to visit a memorial in the nearby state of Manipur where Japanese soldiers were killed during World War II.
A movement against immigrants from Bangladesh has raged in Assam for decades. Protesters say granting Indian nationality to more people will further strain the state’s resources and lead to the marginalisation of Indigenous communities.
Bhaskar Jyoti Mahanta, Assam’s police chief, said that there had been no clashes between protesters and police on Friday.
“Things look better definitely today …(but) forces are all deployed everywhere,” he told Reuters.