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Indian farmers mark 6 months of protest with no end in sight

NEW DELHI (AP) — Indian farmers demanding the government repeal new agriculture laws they say will devastate their livelihoods marked their protest movement’s sixth month Wednesday by flying black banners on the cars and tractors and burning effigies of the prime minister.

Protesters have been blocking three highways connecting New Delhi to northern and western cities since November to press their demand for scrapping of the laws they say will favor large corporate farms. The protest has continued despite a surge in coronavirus cases that has overwhelmed the country.

The black flags were flown Wednesday in several cities, towns and villages around the capital. Some burned effigies of Prime Minister Narendra Modi.

“Modi your dictatorship will not last,” some farmers chanted.

The government says the laws approved by Parliament last year will inject private investment in the agriculture sector and raise the earnings of farmers by setting up warehouses in rural areas where they can store their crops and sell them when prices favor them.

The farmers say the new legislation will devastate their earnings by ending guaranteed pricing and force them to sell their crops to corporations at cheaper prices.

In January, the Supreme Court stayed the implementation of the new laws and created a committee to address the farmer’s grievances.

Agriculture Minister Narendra Singh Tomar has held several rounds of talks with protest leaders and offered to suspend the laws for a year and a half during which a solution can be reached through dialogue. The farmers are demanding an immediate repeal of the laws.

The protests turned violent on Jan. 26, India’s Republic Day, when tens of thousands of farmers riding tractors stormed India’s historic Red Fort. Clashes between the protesters and government forces left one protester dead and nearly 400 police officers injured.

Rishabh Raj Jain, The Associated Press