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Indian farmers battle police over land

An unidentified man witha  bullet wound is carried to a hospital at Nandigram on Wednesday.
An unidentified man witha  bullet wound is carried to a hospital at Nandigram on Wednesday.AP
/ Source: The Associated Press

Farmers in eastern India angered by government plans to build an industrial park on their land fought police with rocks, machetes and pickaxes Wednesday, and at least 12 people were killed, officials said.

The clashes broke out when police tried to enter villages in the Nandigram area for the first time since January, when violence forced officers to abandon their posts in the vicinity.

Those disturbances prompted the government to temporarily suspend plans for scores of so-called Special Economic Zones, which are meant to attract investors with generous tax breaks.

Most of the zones, including the one planned for Nandigram, were to be built on farmland.

The violence has ignited a national debate over whether farms should be razed for factories in India, where about two-thirds of the country’s more than 1 billion people live off agriculture.

All those killed Wednesday were farmers, bringing the death toll in Nandigram since violence first erupted there to 19, said Amit Kiran Deb, a senior government official.

He added that 39 people were wounded, including 14 police officers. Vohra said the death toll was likely to rise because many of the injured were in critical condition.

Private NDTV reported earlier that at least seven people had been killed, all of them when police opened fire.

22,000 acres
The trouble in Nandigram began Jan. 7, after the leak of government plans to acquire 22,000 acres of land and build a petrochemical plant and shipyard in a Special Economic Zone.

The hastily formed Bhumi Ucched Pratirodh, or Land Acquisition Resistance Committee in the region’s Bengali language, organized protests that quickly degenerated into violence.

After six people were killed, West Bengal’s government said it would reconsider its plans. The federal government soon followed suit, temporarily suspending the approval of new Special Economic Zones.

De facto garrisons
Meanwhile, police in West Bengal effectively abandoned Nandigram to the farmers, who turned their villages into bristling little garrisons — digging trenches across roads and erecting barricades to keep officers out.

But the area has since been plagued by sporadic clashes between members of the resistance committee and supporters of the Communist Party of India, which governs West Bengal.

A policeman was killed nearby in February, prompting the government to announce it would send officers back into Nandigram in an attempt to restore order.