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Protesting Indian farmers begin hunger strike after week of clashes over agricultural laws

Saturday's hunger strike will coincide with the death anniversary of Indian independence leader Mahatma Gandhi.
A farmer walks past others taking part in a protest on a blocked highway against the central government's recent agricultural reforms at the Delhi-Uttar Pradesh state border in Ghazipur on Saturday.SAJJAD HUSSAIN / AFP - Getty Images

NEW DELHI — Indian farmers began a one-day hunger strike on Saturday in protest against new agricultural laws, after a week of clashes with authorities that left one dead and hundreds injured.

Angry at what they see as laws benefiting large private buyers at the expense of producers, tens of thousands of farmers have been camped at protest sites on the outskirts of the capital New Delhi for over two months.

A planned tractor parade on Tuesday's Republic Day turned violent when some protesters deviated from pre-agreed routes, tore down barricades and clashed with police, who used tear gas to try and restrain them.

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Farm leaders said Saturday's hunger strike was set to coincide with the death anniversary of Indian independence leader Mahatma Gandhi, and would show Indians that the protesters were overwhelmingly peaceful.

"The farmers' movement was peaceful and will be peaceful," said Darshan Pal, a leader of the Samyukt Kisan Morcha group of farm unions organizing the protests.

"The events on January 30 will be organized to spread the values of truth and non-violence."

Sporadic clashes between protesters, police and groups shouting anti-farmer slogans have broken out on multiple occasions this week.

Agriculture employs about half of India's population of 1.3 billion, and unrest among an estimated 150 million landowning farmers is one of the biggest challenges to the government of Prime Minister Narendra Modi since first coming to power in 2014.

Eleven rounds of talks between farm unions and the government have failed to break the deadlock.

The government has offered to put the laws on hold for 18 months, but farmers say they will not end their protests for anything less than a full repeal.