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PATNA, (India): Indian police shot dead two protesters and arrested more than 130 others during street rallies sparked by a ruling party official’s blasphemous remarks, authorities told AFP Saturday.

There have been widespread protests in the Muslim world since last week, when a spokeswoman for Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s party commented on the relationship between the prophet and his youngest wife on a TV debate show.

In India and neighbouring countries, Muslims took to the streets in huge numbers after Friday prayers to condemn the remarks, with police firing on a crowd in the eastern Indian city of Ranchi.

“Police were forced to open fire to disperse protesters... resulting in the death of two,” a police officer in Ranchi told AFP.

Officers said that the crowd had defied their orders not to march from a mosque to a market and had thrown broken bottles and stones when police attempted to disperse the rally with a baton charge.

Huge protests in Asia over BJP spokeswoman’s remarks

Authorities cut internet connections in the city and imposed a curfew, with local resident Shabnam Ara telling AFP the atmosphere remained tense on Saturday.

“We are praying for peace and harmony,” she said. Police in Uttar Pradesh fired tear gas to disperse at least one rally after several demonstrations were staged across the northern Indian state. Most protests ended peacefully but demonstrators in some cities threw stones at police and injured at least one officer, said Avanish Awasthi, a senior government secretary in the state. “We will take strict action against those indulging in stone pelting and violence,” Awasthi told reporters.

“Those working behind the scenes, instigating violence, will not be spared at all.”

Prashant Kumar, a senior police officer in the state, told AFP that up to “136 protesting miscreants” had been arrested from six districts around Uttar Pradesh.

Cities around India saw sizable demonstrations on Friday, with some crowds burning effigies of Nupur Sharma — the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) spokeswoman whose comments set off the furore. Authorities also cut internet services for the weekend in several districts near the eastern megacity of Kolkata, after protesters blocked a railway line and mobbed a police station. Sharma’s remarks have embroiled India in a diplomatic storm, with the governments of nearly 20 countries calling in Indian envoys for an explanation.

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