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Indian farmer leaders condemn violence

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Leaders of farmers’ unions in India have condemned the violence during a “tractor rally” held by farmers in the Indian capital to demand repeal of new agricultural laws.

On Tuesday, tens of thousands of farmers began the day in a convoy of tractors festooned with Indian and religious flags along New Delhi’s outskirts as the country celebrated its Republic Day.

But hundreds of protesters – some on horseback – broke away from approved routes, heading for government buildings in the city centre where the annual Republic Day parade of troops and military hardware was taking place.

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Once inside, they put up their own emblem on the flagpole where the prime minister normally gives an independence day speech in August.

One farmer was killed in what police said was an accident after his tractor overturned after hitting a barricade.

At least 86 police officers were injured, an official statement said.

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Police said they had started nearly two dozen cases for “rioting” and “assault with deadly weapons” in connection with the violence and accused those who diverged from the agreed routes of “violence and destruction”.

“They have caused great damage to public property and many police personnel have also been injured,” a police statement said.

Protest organiser Samyukt Kisan Morcha later yestersday said the groups deviating from set routes did not represent the majority of farmers.

“We also condemn and regret the undesirable and unacceptable events that have taken place today and dissociate ourselves from those indulging in such acts,” the group of farm unions said in a statement.

The farmers’ leaders said the police had provoked them into violence.

“When you attack a peaceful protest, then difficulties for the government will surely increase,” union leader Kawalpreet Singh Pannu told AFP news agency.

“This won’t stop here. Our movement and message have only become stronger.”

On Twitter, the hashtag #PeacefulProtestsContinue was trending in India on Wednesday.

Leaders of the farmers’ unions say they have enough supplies to keep their protest camps going for a year if necessary.

Amarinder Singh, chief minister of Punjab state, where many of the protesters came from, called the clashes “shocking”.

“The violence by some elements is unacceptable,” he said in a tweet. “It’ll negate goodwill generated by peacefully protesting farmers.”

Home affairs minister Amit Shah held an emergency meeting on Tuesday night on the two months of protests against agricultural laws that have become the biggest challenge to the Hindu nationalist government since it came to power in 2014.— Al Jazeera

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