NEW DELHI (Reuters) - The U.S. embassy in New Delhi urged India’s government on Thursday to resume talks with farmers whose months-long protests over agricultural reforms erupted into violence last week.
India’s Foreign Ministry said it had “taken note” of the comments and underlined ongoing efforts between Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s government and farmers groups to resolve the situation.
“We encourage that any differences between the parties be resolved through dialogue,” a U.S. embassy spokesperson said in a statement that also offered general support for the government’s efforts to “improve the efficiency of India’s markets and attract greater private sector investment”.
Modi’s government has held multiple rounds of talks with representatives of thousands of farmers who have camped, mostly peacefully, on the outskirts of New Delhi since late last year.
But no talks have been held since Jan 26., when some protesters clashed with police in the heart of the capital city following a military parade to mark Republic Day, and no indication has been given of when they might resume.
Television images of protesters occupying the ramparts of New Delhi’s historic Red Fort and later clashing with police drew international attention to the confrontation between Modi’s government and the farmers.
The farmers, who enjoy most support in northern India’s breadbasket states, argue that three new farm laws will hurt their interests while benefiting large firms.
But the government says the reforms will bring much-needed investment to a farm sector that accounts for nearly 15% of India’s $2.9 trillion economy but about half its workforce.
BARRICADES UP, INTERNET DOWN
Police remain on guard against further attempts by farmers to bring the protests into the capital, and have reinforced barricades at three main sites.
Earlier this week internet services were temporarily suspended in some areas, drawing widespread criticism, including from international activists and celebrities.
“We recognise that unhindered access to information, including the internet, is fundamental to the freedom of expression and a hallmark of a thriving democracy,” the U.S. embassy spokesperson said.
In response to social media posts on the internet shutdowns, India’s Foreign Ministry said on Wednesday that vested interest groups were mobilising international support against the country.
“Any protests must be seen in the context of India’s democratic ethos and polity, and the ongoing efforts of the government and the concerned farmer groups to resolve the impasse,” ministry spokesman Anurag Srivastava said on Thursday.
Farm union leaders have been calling for a repeal of the new laws and to make the government’s crop price guarantee scheme legally binding, and for the withdrawal of legal cases against protesters.
But some farmer groups have expanded their list of demands.
At a rally in northern Haryana state on Wednesday, thousands of farmers from the politically influential Jat community backed a call to waive farm loans and increase crop prices paid by the government.
“If the government doesn’t concede to our demands, thousands more farmers will march towards Delhi,” Kek Ram Kandela, a leader among the Jat farmers, told the rally attended by more than 50,000 people.
Additional reporting and Writing by Devjyot Ghoshal; Editing by Simon Cameron-Moore and Catherine Evans
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