India orders extra forces into Delhi after farmers storm iconic Red Fort

·3 min read

The Indian government on Tuesday ordered 2,000 paramilitary reinforcements to New Delhi after thousands of farmers fought street battles with police and stormed the landmark Red Fort as they took protests against agriculture reforms into the capital, reports said.

Convoys of tractors broke through barricades around the edge of Delhi to converge on the centre where they defied tear gas and baton charges to take control.

One farmer was killed in what police said was an accident after his tractor overturned after hitting a barricade. At least 86 police were injured, an official statement said.

At the 400-year-old Red Fort, farmers overcame police guards and put up their own emblem on the flagpole where the prime minister normally gives an independence day speech in August.

They occupied the fort ramparts until they were chased away by security forces.

Around the city, security forces fought demonstrators for control of the streets. But the farmers also laid into police with branches and metal bars and hijacked buses that had been used to block their convoys.

As night fell, authorities cut internet and phone links in the areas on the edge of Delhi where the farmers have set up their camps. Police said they had started cases for "rioting" and "assault with deadly weapons".

Home Affairs Minister Amit Shah held an emergency meeting on the two months of protests against agricultural laws that have become the biggest challenge to the Hindu nationalist government since it came to power in 2014.

Shah ordered 15 companies of paramilitaries to boost security forces in the capital, according to media reports. The government made no official statement about its response to the troubles.

The government had opposed the rally. But police agreed to allow the demonstration if farmers waited until after a military parade attended by Prime Minister Narendra Modi and top dignitaries to mark Republic Day, which commemorates India's 1950 constitution.

But security was breached on the edge of Delhi as the officials watched tanks and troops pass along the Rajpath boulevard.

Modi was driven back to his residence barely 30 minutes before the fleets of tractors took over the centre.

Tens of thousands of farmers have camped on the outskirts of the capital since November, protesting against the new laws which the government says will boost rural incomes.

Union leaders say the legislation will give Indian conglomerates control of the agriculture industry -- the bedrock of the economy -- and end guaranteed prices for most farm produce.

- Popular support -

Farmers' leaders say they have enough supplies to keep their protest camps going for a year if necessary.

The leaders said the police had provoked the farmers into violence.

In a statement, police replied that they had to act after the farmers broke the conditions for the rally and took "the path of violence and destruction".

"When you attack a peaceful protest, then difficulties for the government will surely increase," union leader Kawalpreet Singh Pannu told AFP.

"This won't stop here. Our movement and message have only become stronger."

He said a new protest would be held on February 1 outside parliament when the government announces its budget.

On one main road, people on rooftops threw petals on the tractor convoys. Elsewhere people cheered and applauded as farmers went past waving Indian flags and blowing horns.

- Mass rally -

The government says that the farmers have been manipulated by opposition parties which have largely backed the rural campaign.

Ten rounds of talks between farm unions and ministers have failed to break the deadlock.

The farmers have demanded the government repeal the laws, but the administration has only offered to delay implementation for 18 months.

Smaller farmer demonstrations were held in Mumbai and Bangalore and in the rural state of Haryana.


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