Maoist attacks kill seven during protest strike

Female Maoist rebels The rebels have carried out a string of bloody attacks

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Maoist rebels have carried out a wave of attacks in India, killing seven people including five policemen.

The rebels attacked railway stations, police stations and other targets in the states of Orissa, Chhattisgarh and Jharkhand, police said.

They say officers killed six rebels. The violence came as the rebels held a strike in protest against the killing of a top leader last week.

Cherukuri Rajkumar, commonly known as Azad, died in Andhra Pradesh state.

He was number two in the rebel hierarchy in the state and a spokesman for the Maoists.

Security forces say Azad died in a gunfight, but the rebels say he was killed by police in a "staged encounter".

Wave of violence

Police said the rebels had triggered off an explosion in the Kaunkonda area in the restive Dantewada district in Chhattisgarh, killing two policemen.

Maoist guerrillas also attacked the house of a local Congress party politician and killed four people, including two policemen. The politician's son and an aide were injured, the police said.

Six rebels were killed when the police retaliated during that attack, Dantewada police chief SK Kalluri said.

Elsewhere in Chhattisgarh, rebels attacked paramilitary camps, and set fire to a police station in Kejhar district in neighbouring Orissa state.

One policeman was killed during a firefight between the rebels and security forces in the Nichitpur area of Dhanbad in Jharkhand state.

Rebels also set off explosions on railway tracks in the Dhanbad and Latehar areas of Jharkhand, disrupting the movement of trains in the area.

Railway spokesman AK Das said rebels had asked railway staff to vacate the Hehegarha railway station in Latehar and triggered off an explosion that destroyed the station building.

The BBC's Salman Ravi in Raipur, the state capital of Chhattisgarh, says life has come to a standstill in many villages in Jharkhand and Chhattisgarh, where railway traffic is suspended and businesses are shut for a second consecutive day.

The Maoists, also known as Naxalites, say they are fighting for the rights of rural poor.

Prime Minister Manmohan Singh has described their insurgency as India's biggest internal security challenge.

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