India row after Rahul Gandhi says police killed farmers

Rahul Gandhi gestures to a villager during his visit to Parsaul village on 11 May 2011 Rahul Gandhi joined protesting farmers last week

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A row has broken out in India after Congress party MP Rahul Gandhi accused police of killing farmers during recent protests against a new road.

Mr Gandhi said the remains of many murdered farmers had been found in Uttar Pradesh state. Local women had also been raped, he alleged.

The state's governing Bahujan Samajwadi Party (BSP) has rejected the charges, saying they are politically motivated.

Farmers say they are being forced to give up land for industry projects.

The BBC's Sanjoy Majumder in Delhi says many see this is as a political row between the two parties ahead of local elections due next year.

But acquisition of land for industry is a raging issue in India as it tries to balance the demands of a growing economy with the interests of its rural poor, our correspondent adds.

The government says it will introduce a new law in parliament which will address the issue.

'Dead bodies'

Start Quote

All down the Agra highway... state repression is being used”

End Quote Rahul Gandhi Congress party MP

Mr Gandhi, a rising political star seen by many as a future prime minister, led a delegation of villagers from Uttar Pradesh to meet Prime Minister Manmohan Singh on Monday night.

Afterwards, Mr Gandhi alleged that "quite severe atrocities" had taken place in the adjoining villages of Bhatta and Parsaul near Greater Noida, not far from the Indian capital, Delhi.

He said there was a "heap of ash there with dead bodies inside".

"Everybody in the village knows it. We can give you pictures. Women have been raped, people have been thrashed. Houses have been destroyed."

Mr Gandhi's office circulated photographs purportedly showing the burnt remains of people killed in the protests. It is impossible to authenticate the pictures and Mr Gandhi has not said how many people he believes were killed.

A team of forensic experts is visiting the villages to collect samples.

At a news conference later on Tuesday, the state police commissioner and inspector general of police both denied allegations of mass murder, burning human bodies and rape.

The BBC's Ram Dutt Tripathi in Lucknow says land protests broke out in the villages on 7 May, and police sealed off the area. Many villagers are still unaccounted for, locals say.

At least two policemen and a farmer are known to have been killed during the protests near Greater Noida.

Farmers there say they have been forced to give up land for an expressway project linking Delhi with Agra, where the Taj Mahal is located.

Mr Gandhi joined protesters last week and was briefly detained.

Compensation

The demonstrations in the Greater Noida area are the latest in a series of protests over attempts to acquire land for industry or infrastructure development in India.

The issue of land acquisition is highly sensitive - about 65% of the population rely on farming.

According to law, the government can requisition any private land for a "public purpose".

The Uttar Pradesh government says farmers have been given generous compensation - farmers disagree.

It accuses Mr Gandhi of playing politics and has questioned the authenticity of the photographs.

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