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Police fire tear gas on Indian farmers marching to capital, government offers talks

INDIAN farmers demanding higher prices for their produce paused their protest after the government made a new offer to resume talks, hours after police fired tear gas and used water cannons to scatter thousands staging a march to Delhi.

The farmers, mostly from the northern state of Punjab, have been demanding higher prices backed by law for their crops. They form an influential bloc of voters Prime Minister Narendra Modi cannot afford to anger ahead of general elections due by May.

Farmers’ leader Sarwan Singh Pandher told reporters they would pause their protest for two days and deliberate their next course of action until Friday after the government offered anew to resume talks on farmers’ demand for guaranteed crop prices.

“The government is ready to discuss all the issues,” Agriculture Minister Arjun Munda posted on social network X.

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“I again invite the farmer leaders for discussion. It is important for us to maintain peace.”

Earlier on Wednesday, protesters – some wearing medical masks- ran into fields near their gathering point on a highway about 200 km (125 miles) north of New Delhi after police fired tear gas.

Pandher claimed that one protester was killed and three injured at another protest site 100 km away, but police in Haryana state denied it.

Video clips on local media showed police using water cannons and farmers aiming a hose pipe of water at the site.

READ:  Kenyan police fire tear gas at protesters marching against finance bill

On Monday, the farmers’ groups rejected the government’s previous proposal for five-year contracts and guaranteed support prices for produce such as corn, cotton and pulses.

Farmers stand on an excavator, during a protest demanding better crop prices, promised to them in 2021, at Shambhu Barrier, a border crossing between Punjab and Haryana states, India, February 20, 2024. REUTERS/Anushree Fadnavis

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The farmers, accompanied by cranes and excavators, began marching at 0530 GMT from a spot on a key highway where authorities had erected barricades on the border of Punjab state with Haryana.

“It is not right that such massive barricades have been placed to stop us,” said one of the farmers’ leaders, Jagjit Singh Dallewal. “We want to march to Delhi peacefully. If not, they should accede to our demands.”

Police in riot gear lined the highway as the farmers waved colourful flags emblazoned with symbols of their unions.

Late on Tuesday, Haryana’s police chief ordered the immediate seizure of heavy equipment brought by the farmers, to keep protesters from using them to destroy barricades.

About 10,000 people had gathered on Wednesday, along with 1,200 tractors and wagons at Shambhu on the state border, police in Haryana posted on X.

Security was stepped up at entry points to New Delhi, ensnarling traffic to the city of more than 20 million. Two key entry points north of the city have been shut for days and traffic diverted.

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An earlier government proposal of minimum support prices to farmers who diversify their crops to grow cotton, pigeon peas, black matpe, red lentils and corn was rejected by the protesters, who wanted additional food grains covered.

READ:  Police beat journalist, fire tear gas during Congo election protest

Similar protests two years ago, when farmers camped for months at the border of New Delhi, forced Modi’s government to repeal a set of farm laws.

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By SUNIL KATARIA and ADNAN ABIDI

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