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Protesting Indian farmers vow to amass more supporters outside capital Delhi

BARNALA, India (Reuters) - More than 100,000 farmers and farm workers gathered in India’s northern Punjab state on Sunday in a show of strength against new farm laws, where union leaders called on supporters to amass outside the capital New Delhi on Feb. 27.

Tens of thousands of Indian growers have already been camped outside Delhi for nearly three months, demanding the repeal of the three reform laws that they say will hurt them and benefit large corporations.

Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s government, which introduced the laws last September, has offered to defer the laws but refused to abandon them, arguing that legislation will help farmers get better prices.

Both sides have met for several rounds of negotiations but failed to make any headway, and farmers’ unions have vowed to carry on the protests until the laws are rolled back.

At Sunday’s rally at a grain market in Barnala, a town in Punjab, union leaders outlined plans to mobilise farmers and farm workers from across the northern state and move to a protest site outside Delhi later this month.

“We came here to make Punjab’s farmers aware of the movement in Delhi. We came to tell them what’s happening there and what will happen next,” prominent farmer leader Joginder Ugrahan told Reuters.

A sea of supporters, including tens of thousands of women, began gathering in Barnala early in the day, riding in on buses, tractors, trailers and cars. Local police estimated a crowd of between 120,000 and 130,000 eventually gathered, comprising one of the largest rallies against the laws.

Baljinder Singh, a 52-year-old farmer, said he had travelled 30 kms (18.6 miles) to attend the rally. “Our objective is that the black laws enacted by the Modi government are repealed,” Singh said, tightly grasping a flag of a farmers’ union.

In New Delhi, a senior official from Modi’s ruling Bharatiya Janata Party blamed opposition parties for attempting to prolong the agitation but said the government was open for further talks.

Writing by Devjyot Ghoshal; editing by Emelia Sithole-Matarise

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