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Police Killing Sparks Strike in Indian State of West Bengal


The Indian state of West Bengal has been hit by an opposition-backed general strike to protest police shooting in which 14 villagers were killed. As Anjana Pasricha reports from New Delhi, the communist-ruled state has witnessed violent protests in recent months by farmers opposing government plans to acquire land to create industrial hubs.

Schools, colleges and offices shut across West Bengal state, and transport stayed off the roads as an opposition alliance enforced a daylong shutdown on Friday.

Sporadic clashes erupted between police and opposition activists as protesters staged street marches in Kolkata and elsewhere, shouting slogans against the state's communist government. Police say several state-run buses were stoned.

The strike was called two days after 14 villagers were killed and scores injured when police fired on farmers in Nandigram district. Police were trying to break up angry mobs that were pelting them with stones and homemade bombs.

Villagers and political activists there have been leading violent protests against plans to acquire farmland to establish a chemical hub and industrial park. They have set up roadblocks and destroyed bridges to prevent officials and policemen from entering the area.

The protests have continued since January despite a state government pledge to shift the proposed special economic zone if villagers do not want it.

Junior federal Home Minister Sriprakash Jaiswal says that the state government is taking steps to tackle the unrest. He said the West Bengal government is hopeful that peace will be restored to the region soon.

The issue of land acquisition became controversial after the West Bengal government decided to turn over thousands of acres of farmland to private industries. The communist government wants to woo private investment to improve the economy of the state, which businesses have shunned for decades due to militant trade unions.

But farmers say they will be displaced and left without a livelihood if their land is taken away.

The violent protests by farmers in West Bengal have turned the spotlight on the federal government's plans to establish hundreds of special economic zones throughout the country. Critics are questioning the merits of handing over agricultural land to businesses in a country where agriculture sustains two thirds of the one billion people.

A worried federal government has put the policy on hold for the time being.

Meanwhile, angry opposition lawmakers disrupted Parliament for a second straight day on Friday demanding that the federal government send an all-party delegation to West Bengal to investigate the recent killings of villagers.

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