Gulab Chand Kataria, the state home minister, said that 12 protesters died when police fired at them in the districts of Bundi and Dausa. A policeman was bludgeoned to death by rampaging demonstrators.

"Two other policemen are missing in Dausa and we fear they too may have been killed," Kataria told reporters. He added that the protesters torched four police stations and scores of government vehicles across Rajasthan.

The minister said the protest on Monday, which initially began with a sit-in on a highway in Dausa, spread to 10 of Rajasthan’s 32 districts after police opened fire.

"We are trying to bring the situation under control," Kataria said as the federal army rushed combat troops to Dausa, where the protesters blocked a highway from the Taj Mahal town of Agra to Rajasthan's capital, Jaipur.

Tourists stranded

Hundreds of tourists were stranded in Agra as police diverted Rajasthan-bound traffic to the Indian capital, New Delhi, tour operators said.

"A large number of tourists ar

"A large number of tourists are stranded here and ... many are changing their itinerary"

AK Lal, a spokesman for a tour operator

e stranded here and ... many are changing their itinerary," said AK Lal, a spokesman for Travel Corporation of India, a tour operator.

In Rajasthan, HK Dahmor, Dausa district administrator, said that the police fired only when the protest turned violent.

"The police first tried to negotiate with the protesters," said Dahmor from Dausa, 500km from Jodhpur.

"When the protestors did not budge, the police tried to physically move them from the spot which sparked the clashes," he said.

But Avinash Badana, a Gujjar community leader, told reporters that the police fired on "unarmed people."

The Gujjars, armed with swords, guns and sticks and led by a former army colonel, fought pitched battles with the police, witnesses said.

Television footage showed policemen in protective body armour chasing protesters off the highway as police vehicles, buses and trucks were stoned.

Gujjars make up some six million of Rajasthan's 55 million population, and are the dominant community in nine of the state's 32 districts. Community leaders have been demanding for several years that the state government push their case for special status.