South Asia

India Maoists to 'protest' against killings

Anti-Maoists operation in West Bengal
Image caption There has been a wave of Maoist-led violence in recent months

India's Maoists say they will observe a two-day protest against a security operation in West Bengal state in which eight of their fighters were killed.

The rebels, including three women, were killed by security forces in West Midnapore district on Wednesday.

Rebel spokesman Comrade Khokan said the protest would be held during the weekend.

Authorities have been under pressure following a wave of Maoist-led violence in recent months.

In late May, more than 145 people were killed when a train crashed in West Bengal after Maoist rebels allegedly sabotaged the rail track.

'Systemic action'

Comrade Khokan told the BBC that the rebels could not have a dialogue with the authorities if "there is systemic and continuous police action".

Police said forces were put on high alert anticipating violence during the protest weekend.

"We would expect them to set off a few explosions in parts of West Bengal and stage a few attacks on the security forces, so we have to be on our guard," said West Bengal police chief Bhupinder Singh.

Early on Wednesday, eight rebels were killed during a six-hour-long firefight in the Rajna forests near the troubled Lalgarh enclave.

Their bodies were recovered along with some guns and ammunition which had been earlier looted from a police armoury, police said.

Mr Singh said earlier 10 villagers, two teachers and a writer had been arrested from West Midnapore because of suspected links with the Maoists.

Some of these arrested people had given the police information about the movement of the rebels, leading to the "successful operation" on Wednesday.

Thousands have died in the rebels' decades-long fight against the state.

Maoist rebels have in recent months stepped up attacks in response to a government push to flush them out of their jungle bases.

Indian forces launched the offensive in what is known as the "red corridor" - a broad swathe of territory in eastern and central India where the Maoist rebellion has been gathering strength.

Nearly 50,000 federal paramilitary troops and tens of thousands of policemen are taking part in the operation in several states.

In April, 76 paramilitary troops were killed in an ambush - the single deadliest attack on the Indian security forces by the rebels.

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

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