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Hundreds detained as caste protest turns violent in Gujarat

MEHSANA, India (Reuters) - Protests by an Indian caste demanding the release of one of its leaders turned violent on Sunday, as police fought running street battles with stone-throwing demonstrators and detained hundreds.

Statewide marches in Gujarat calling for the freeing of Hardik Patel, a young leader of the Patel community who has been in jail since last October on sedition charges, turned violent in the town of Mehsana.

Police fired tear gas, deployed water cannon and staged baton charges against protesters. The local administrator imposed a curfew in Mehsana. Across the state more than 400 protesters were detained.

At least two dozen people were injured in Mehsana, NDTV said in a report that could not immediately be confirmed.

“The internet has been jammed so that no rumours are spread through WhatsApp and other social sites,” said Mehsana District Collector Lochan Sehra. “Peace should be maintained throughout the city.”

Hardik Patel, 22, emerged overnight last year as leader of a mass movement demanding more government jobs and college places for the Patel -- or Patidar -- community that makes up 14 percent of Gujarat’s 60 million population.

Last year’s protests caught the state and federal governments off guard, and challenged the promise of new job opportunities made by Prime Minister Narendra Modi, who ran Gujarat for 13 years before winning the 2014 general election.

Earlier this year the Jat land-owning caste launched mass protests in another Indian state, Haryana, only backing down when the authorities yielded to their demands for more jobs and opportunities to study.

Reporting by Reuters Television; Writing by Douglas Busvine; Editing by Louise Heavens