Police fire tear gas on Indian farmers marching to capital, government offers talks

SHAMBHU, India, Feb 21: Indian police fired tear gas on Wednesday to scatter thousands of protesting farmers as they sought to resume a march to Delhi after rejecting a government offer on prices for their produce, while authorities offered a fresh round of negotiations.

Fleeing the stinging gas and clouds of smoke, the farmers, some wearing medical masks, ran into the fields surrounding their gathering point on a highway about 200 km (125 miles) north of New Delhi.

The police action came as the government of Prime Minister Narendra Modi made a new offer to resume talks on the farmers’ demands. Agriculture Minister Arjun Munda urged the farmers to resolve their grievances through the talks.

“After the fourth round, the government is ready to discuss all the issues” such as guaranteed prices for the farmers’ crops, he posted on social network X, as the march resumed.

“I again invite the farmer leaders for discussion. It is important for us to maintain peace.”

Farmers’ leaders went into a huddle to discuss Wednesday’s offer after the police action brought the march to a halt, media said.

Top police and district officials were at the site, mediating between the leaders and the government, the Indian Express newspaper reported.

On Monday, the farmers’ groups had rejected the government’s previous proposal for five-year contracts and guaranteed support prices for produce such as corn, cotton and pulses.

The farmers, mostly from the northern state of Punjab, have been demanding higher prices backed by law for their crops. They form an influential bloc of voters Prime Minister Narendra Modi cannot afford to anger ahead of general elections due by May.

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