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800 arrested in protests in eastern India

Activists vent anger over 14 deaths in clashes with police.

March 17, 2007|From the Associated Press

KOLKATA, INDIA — Nearly 800 people were arrested as thousands of activists burned buses and blocked roads Friday in eastern India to protest the deaths this week of 14 farmers in clashes with police officers, officials said.

Schools, colleges and businesses were closed across the state of West Bengal as part of a daylong protest strike, which halted long-distance train and bus services, said Raj Kanojia, a senior police officer.

Several buses were burned in Kolkata, the state capital formerly known as Calcutta, but police dispersed protesters before they could do more damage, he said.

The opposition activists -- from the Trinamool Congress, the Hindu nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party and the Socialist Unity Center of India -- took to the streets in several towns to vent their anger over the deaths that occurred Wednesday in clashes between farmers and police in Nandigram, an area in the southern part of the state.

The farmers were opposing government plans to build an industrial park on their land.

A team from India's top police agency, the Central Bureau of Investigation, arrived in Nandigram to look into the violence. No major incidents were reported there Friday.

On Wednesday, thousands of protesting farmers fought police with rocks, machetes and pickaxes. Police retaliated with gunfire that killed at least 10 protesters. Four others were said to have died of other injuries sustained in the violence.

The trouble in Nandigram began Jan. 7 after the leak of a government plan to acquire 22,000 acres in the area to build a petrochemical plant and shipyard.

The hastily formed Land Acquisition Resistance Committee organized protests that quickly degenerated into the violent clashes.

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