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Uneasy Calm in Delhi After Days of Riots

More than 20 people have died in violence that began with protests over India’s controversial citizenship law.

By , an associate editor at Foreign Policy.
A resident looks at a damaged home and shops following clashes in New Delhi on Feb. 26.
A resident looks at a damaged home and shops following clashes in New Delhi on Feb. 26. SAJJAD HUSSAIN/AFP via Getty Images

Here is today’s Foreign Policy brief: Delhi falls quiet after days of religious violence, Saudi Arabia bans pilgrims and China fears reinfection from abroad as the coronavirus spreads, and Greek islanders protest against the construction of new migrant detention centers.

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Here is today’s Foreign Policy brief: Delhi falls quiet after days of religious violence, Saudi Arabia bans pilgrims and China fears reinfection from abroad as the coronavirus spreads, and Greek islanders protest against the construction of new migrant detention centers.

If you would like to receive Morning Brief in your inbox every weekday, please sign up here.

Sporadic Violence Continues in Delhi

An uneasy calm has settled over Delhi after three days of riots, with the death toll from the unrest rising to 27 on Wednesday. More than 200 people have been injured by rocks, bullets, beatings, stabbings, and even acid burns. The clashes between Hindus and Muslims began amid protests over India’s new controversial citizenship law passed in December, which eases the pathway to citizenship for some immigrants from neighboring countries but excludes Muslims.

Although India’s national security advisor has said the situation is “under control,” the religious violence has been the worst in the capital in decades, the Guardian reports. Mobs have chanted pro-Hindu slogans and burned or vandalized mosques, shops, and other Muslim properties. Police and paramilitary forces have been deployed in the hardest-hit areas of the city, where many Muslims have now abandoned their homes. Sporadic violence continued on Thursday.

How did the violence start? Many have blamed Kapil Mishra, a local leader from the ruling Hindu nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), for inciting the violence. On Sunday, Mishra gave a speech threatening to send a mob to clear a protest against the citizenship law and warning the police that his followers would act if they did not. The speech took hold on social media. By that evening, gangs of Hindus and Muslims began throwing rocks at each other—after which the violence quickly spiraled out of control.

Modi’s response. The start of the violence coincided with U.S. President Donald Trump’s state visit, during which he met with Prime Minister Narendra Modi. On Wednesday, Modi at last weighed in on the violence, tweeting, “I appeal to my sisters and brothers of Delhi to maintain peace and brotherhood at all times.” Police have so far arrested 106 people in connection with the violence.

What We’re Following Today

Saudi Arabia bans pilgrims as coronavirus spreads. Saudi Arabia has banned the entry of Muslim pilgrims heading to the holy cities of Mecca and Medina in an effort to halt the spread of the coronavirus. Saudi officials announced they are “suspending entry to the kingdom for the purpose of umrah and visiting the Prophet’s Mosque temporarily.” The traditional Islamic pilgrimage can take place at any time of year and approximately 8 million Muslims travel to Saudi Arabia annually—many during the month of Ramadan that starts in late April this year.

The pilgrimage has been a vector for disease in the past: Cholera outbreaks killed an estimated 20,000 pilgrims in 1821 and another 15,000 in 1865. Although the kingdom has in the past barred pilgrims from some countries due to health concerns—as was the case for West Africans during the Ebola outbreak in 2014—there is no precedent for a worldwide ban.

China tightens screening for returning travelers. As the coronavirus threatens to become a pandemic, China is now seeking to stop travelers from bringing the disease back and causing reinfection from abroad. Some city governments have begun stricter health screenings for travelers to China and even quarantining those arriving from countries with new outbreaks. China itself has reported a slowdown in new cases, with the virus now spreading faster outside its borders than within. Brazil confirmed Latin America’s first case on Wednesday, and U.S. health officials have warned a pandemic is likely—even as Trump tries to calm markets.

There are still worrying signs from inside China, however. Officials aren’t sharing specific data about the number of health care workers who have contracted the virus, the Washington Post reports.  And amid the crisis, China’s People’s Liberation Army—which usually plays a role in disaster relief—has been missing in action, Elizabeth Phu and Anish Goel write in FP.

Greeks protest migrant centers. Police dispersed hundreds of demonstrators on the Greek island of Lesbos on Wednesday after a second day of unrest. The residents are protesting against plans for a new migrant detention center to replace unsafe and overcrowded refugee camps. Border closures along the migrant route north of Greece have left thousands stranded on the islands near Turkey. The government recently announced a decision to accelerate construction of the facilities, which would affect five Aegean islands, where locals fear the centers will become permanent.

Erdogan threatens another push against Syrian forces. Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan has said that Turkish troops will clear Syrian government forces away from military observation posts this week, even as the Syrian troops have made advances in northwest Idlib province. Turkey has sent thousands of troops into Syria in recent weeks in a bid to support the last rebel holdout there. But on Wednesday, Syrian President Bashar al-Assad’s forces made new gains in the province, taking several villages. The Syrian campaign has displaced nearly 1 million people.

Keep an Eye On

East Africa’s locust swarms. Desert locusts are still descending on East Africa’s crops in the most alarming numbers in decades. Exacerbated by climate shocks, the pests are fueling food insecurity in an already precarious region. “The fear is that this could push as many as 3 million people into food insecurity,” U.S. Agency for International Development Administrator Mark Green tells FP’s Robbie Gramer.

Bolsonaro backs anti-democracy protests in Brazil. Far-right Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro appeared to endorse anti-democracy protests set for March 15, sharing a propaganda video via his personal WhatsApp account. The promotion sparked anger in Brazil, which threw off a dictatorship in 1985. Some of the far-right activists have proposed a return to military rule under Bolsonaro’s leadership.

Ethiopia’s giant dam. Ethiopia has requested a delay for the final round of talks on its proposed hydropower dam on the Blue Nile. The U.S.-mediated talks were scheduled for today and Friday. Egypt, Ethiopia, and Sudan were expected to sign an agreement on the controversial dam by the end of this month. But the trickiest technical questions remain unresolved, as FP’s Keith Johnson reported in January.

Odds and Ends

Britain’s Prince Harry dropped his royal title at an event in Edinburgh, Scotland, on Wednesday, weeks before he steps back from royal duties on March 31. Before addressing the audience, he asked to be introduced by his first name only—not as Sir or Royal Highness. Harry and his wife, Meghan, made the decision to stop representing the royal family earlier this year. It’s not just the titles: Last week, the pair were told they couldn’t use the word “royal” in personal branding.

That’s it for today.

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Audrey Wilson is an associate editor at Foreign Policy. Twitter: @audreybwilson

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