Police clashed with farmers blocking a highway to demand government relief in the drought-stricken southern Philippines on Friday, leaving at least two demonstrators dead and dozens injured, including at least 23 officers, officials said.
Police moved in to disperse about 6,000 farmers and their supporters who were demonstrating for the fourth straight day in Kidapawan, the capital of Cotabato province, when scuffles and gunfire broke out, police and Cotabato Gov. Emmylou Mendoza said.
Mendoza said two protesters were killed and a journalist at the site counted 13 injured demonstrators. Provincial police chief Alexander Tagum said at least 23 police officers also were hurt.
Two officers were in critical condition due to head trauma, said National Police spokesman Wilben Mayor.
The farmers, who have been demanding financial aid and rice during a monthslong drought in the province, said the police fired at them. Police said some of the protesters were armed and fired first.
Mayor said the police were still gathering information.
Before shots were fired, police had given an ultimatum to the protesters to leave. After negotiations failed, police began pushing the farmers away with their shields, but the farmers fought back by throwing stones and rocks while firefighters sprayed water on them.
Left-wing groups, which support the farmers' demands, quickly condemned police for using force.
"The farmers were calling for rice, but bullets rained on them instead,'' said Rep. Terry Ridon of the Youth Party.