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Violence in central India, as police shoot five protestors dead

Posted June 8

Violent protests have spread across the central Indian state of Madhya Pradesh, after police admitted to opening fire on crowds of protestors Tuesday killing five.

Over 1,000 paramilitary troops have been sent to the state in a bid to quell the unrest, which has seen buses torched and buildings set ablaze.

The outbreak of discontent began over a week ago in the city of Mandsaur, as farmers -- frustrated with the state's agricultural policies -- took to the streets to demand higher crop prices and a waiver on existing bank loans. The drought-ridden state is one of several in India to have suffered from repeated crop failures in recent years.

Police had initially denied responsibility for the deaths of the farmers, who were armed only with rocks and stones, according to authorities.

But on Thursday the state's Home Minister Bhupendra Singh backed away from the initial claims, announcing that it had become "clear from the investigation that the five people died from police bullets."

Curfew, suspended internet

A round-the-clock curfew has since been enforced in Mandsaur. Internet services have also been suspended in multiple districts.

"The farmers did not come to the protest with any petrol or anything that can be used to start a fire," said Sunil Gaur, a spokesperson for Rashtriya Kisan Majdur Sangh (National Farmers Labor Union), which was one of the groups behind the protest.

The intensity of the protests appear to have caught Indian authorities off guard.

The state's Chief Minister Shivraj Singh Chouhan made an emotional plea to farmers to end the violence.

"I appeal to my farmer brothers to be calm. Don't fall into anyone's trap. The government is standing with you. We will sit down with each other and find a solution."

'A people's movement'

Madhya Pradesh, which is ruled by Prime Minister Narendra Modi's Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), is still largely dependent of agriculture and is considered part of India's farming heartland.

On Thursday, farmers blocked highways throughout the state, preventing delivery trucks from reaching city markets.

India's agricultural sector grew by an average of 3% between 2008-2014, while India's economy overall grew at a rate of 7%, according to India's Ministry of Agriculture and Farmer's Welfare.

Those protesting felt betrayed by the BJP government which had promised certain benefits to farmers during the 2014 national election, said Gaur.

"The demands we have are not for the state government, it is for the central government," added Gaur. "Now this movement will go from Madhya Pradesh and spread across the whole country, this will become a people's movement."

Almost 70% of India's population of 1.3 billion live in rural areas, according to India's census, but agriculture accounts for just 15 percent of the country's gross domestic product.

Last year, Modi promised to boost the country's agriculture sector with a target of doubling the income of farmers by 2022.

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