Indian farmers continue protest despite talks offer

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Thousands of farmers in and around the Indian capital have continued their protest against agricultural legislation which they say could devastate crop prices, while the government sought talks with their leaders.

Some demonstrators burned an effigy of Prime Minister Narendra Modi and shouted “Down with Modi” as they rallied on Delhi’s border with Haryana state.

The protesting farmers were allowed to enter New Delhi late on Friday after a day of clashes with police, who used tear gas, water cannons and baton charges to push them back.

India Farmer Protests
Protesting farmers clash with police as they attempt to move towards New Delhi (Altaf Qadri/AP)

The Press Trust of India news agency said more protesters were heading for New Delhi from northern Punjab state.

Many farmers have camped out on highways in Punjab and Haryana states for the last two months to protest over the passing of the legislation. They say the laws could cause the government to stop buying grain at guaranteed prices and result in them being exploited by corporations which would buy their crops cheaply.

The government says the legislation brings about much-needed reform agriculture that will allow farmers the freedom to market their produce and boost production through private investment.

Agriculture Minister Narendra Singh Tomar said he has invited representatives of the farmers for talks on December 3.

“We have talked before and are still ready for talks,” he said late on Friday.

There was no immediate response from the farmers.

India Farmer Protests
Protesting farmers jam a highway as they attempt to move towards New Delhi (Altaf Qadri/AP)

“We are fighting for our rights. We won’t rest until we reach the capital and force the government to abolish these black laws,” said Majhinder Singh Dhaliwal, one of the leaders.

Opposition parties and some Modi allies have called the laws anti-farmer and pro-corporation.

Farmers have long been seen as the heart and soul of India, where agriculture supports more than half of the country’s 1.3 billion people.

But farmers have also seen their economic clout diminish over the last three decades. Once accounting for a third of India’s gross domestic product, they now produce only 15% of gross domestic product, which is valued at 2.9 trillion US dollars (£2.2 trillion) a year.

Farmers often complain of being ignored and hold frequent protests to demand better crop prices, more loan waivers and irrigation systems to guarantee water during dry spells.

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