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India: Farmers block roads as thousands maintain protest against agriculture laws

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Indian farmers block an expressway at Kundli in Haryana, India, Saturday, Feb. 6, 2021.
Indian farmers block an expressway at Kundli in Haryana, India, Saturday, Feb. 6, 2021.   -   Copyright  AP Photo/Manish Swarup
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Thousands of Indian farmers blocked highways across the country on Saturday to press their demands for the repeal of new agricultural laws.

Authorities deployed security forces mainly outside the capital, New Delhi, where farmers have camped at three main sites for more than two months.

They say they won’t leave until the government rolls back the laws it says are necessary to modernise Indian agriculture.

The farmers say the laws will leave them poorer and at the mercy of corporations.

Their action is a major challenge to Prime Minister Narendra Modi.

On Friday India’s agriculture minister defended the laws in Parliament, dampening hopes of a quick settlement.

Narendra Singh Tomar made no new offer to resume talks with the farmers, and several rounds have already failed to produce any breakthroughs.

Activists, pop stars and public figures at home and abroad have taken to social media in support of ongoing strikes.

They include Rihanna, Greta Thunberg, Ugandan activist Vanessa Nakate and the US vice president's niece Meena Harris.

Their criticism brought an angry response from the Indian government, the foreign ministry condemning "sensationalist social media hashtags and comments... neither accurate nor responsible".

The farmers are supported by friends and relatives back home, including the residents of the small village of Kandala in the state of Punjab.

Discussing the farmers' actions, one villager said the protesters had no choice and he called on the government to repeal the laws.

The protests would continue until then, he said, adding that they were prepared to lay down their lives for the cause.

The largely peaceful rallies turned violent on Jan. 26, India's Republic Day, when a group of of farmers riding tractors veered from the protest route and stormed the 17th century Red Fort monument.

Farmer leaders condemned the violence but said they would not call off the protest.

Since then, authorities have heavily increased security at New Delhi's border, adding iron spikes and steel barricades to stop the farmers from entering the capital.