India police fire tear gas, water cannon to stop farmers' march

Police use water cannon and tear gas to disperse thousands of farmers, seeking better prices for their produce.

    Farmers blocked one of the highways into New Delhi and used tractors to try and break through a police barrier [Prakash Singh/ AFP]
    Farmers blocked one of the highways into New Delhi and used tractors to try and break through a police barrier [Prakash Singh/ AFP]

    Clashes have broken out in India on the outskirts of the capital New Delhi as police used water cannon and tear gas to stop thousands of protesting farmers entering the city.

    The farmers, reeling from high fuel prices, were pressing for government help on Tuesday, their demands including higher support prices for agricultural goods, payment for pending sugarcane dues and waivers on farm loans ahead of elections due in 2019.

    Marching from adjoining northern states, the farmers blocked one of the highways into New Delhi and used tractors to try and break through a police barrier, television pictures showed.

    Some reportedly threw stones at police.

    The protestors reached the outer limits of New Delhi on foot, in buses and on tractor trailers under the banner of the Bhartiya Kisan Union (Indian Farmers Union), a farmers group critical of Prime Minister Narendra Modi's government.

    Dharmendra Malik, a member of the union, told Al Jazeera that police fired "tear gas and plastic bullets at unarmed farmers". He claimed 50 people were injured.

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    The police could not be reached for comment immediately.

    But earlier, Deputy Commissioner of Police (East) Pankaj Singh defended the police decision to stop farmers from entering the national capital, saying it would create "law and order situation".

    Elections are due in India next year and as votes approach, unions representing farmers and other groups have staged protests in an effort to secure sweeteners in exchange for support at the ballot box.

    The farmers demonstrating on Tuesday were mostly from Uttar Pradesh (UP), India's most populous state with more than 200 million people and its most electorally important.

    Abhimanyu Kohar, a farmer, condemned the police's actions against protesters and said farmers will continue their demonstration until their demands are met.

    "There should be dialogue within a democracy. But this government is in a denial mode, they are unwilling to accept that there is a farm crisis. They will pay heavily in the upcoming elections for what they have done today," he told Al Jazeera.

    Modi and his right-wing Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) routed all opposition parties in UP in the last elections.

    He remains personally popular according to several surveys, but after four years in power support for his party has been eroded by voter concerns about jobs and the spike in fuel prices.

     

    Additional reporting by Zeenat Saberin from New Delhi

    SOURCE: Al Jazeera and news agencies


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