CHENNAI: Within days of protests against the controversial film ‘Innocence of Muslims’ turning violent, the US consulate in Chennai has suspended visa processing until Wednesday following the decision of more than 20 Muslim groups to hold more rallies. The consulate also asked US citizens in the TN capital to exercise caution and follow local media for updates.Security was strengthened around the consulate after around 2,000 protesters belonging to the Tamil Nadu Muslim Munnetra Kazhagam resorted to violence last Thursday. Maulana Ghulam Mohammed Mehdi Khan, chief Shia Kazi, on Monday indicated to this newspaper that the protests would continue in the city, although he did not agree with the violence.”A wave of Islamophobia is sweeping across the world,” he said, adding, “films like this one feed this phobia.”
Chennai police chief J K Tripathy said they are geared up to face the demonstrations. “The protesters have not finalized the venue. We will plan our action according to the venue,” he said. The Chennai police have deployed swift action group (SAG), rapid action force (RAF) and commando force around the consulate. Search lights have been installed on roads and CCTV cameras, broken during Thursday’s protest, have been replaced.Police have arrested 18 people in connection with Thursday’s incident and cordoned off the area around the consulate by blocking the service roads connecting Anna Salai and Dr Radhakrishnan Salai. They said 24 Islamic fronts, associations and federations in the state had given a call for protest on Tuesday.
Intelligence officials said members of Muslim organizations were travelling from many districts to Chennai in vans, cars and buses. The US consulate in Chennai will remain closed until Wednesday, a public holiday. Other US consulates in India and the US embassy in New Delhi will remain open for services. The consulate officials have requested visa applicants to check their official website for further updates.The consulate has asked American citizens to enroll in the Smart Traveller Enrollment Programme (STEP). US citizens without internet access may enroll directly at the US embassy or the consulate at their destination. By enrolling, the US citizens make it easier for the embassy to contact them in case of an emergency.