Activists Burn Buses After 14 Farmers Who Opposed Government's Takeover of Land Killed

Thousands of activists burned buses and blocked roads in eastern India on Friday to protest the recent killing of 14 farmers opposed to government plans to build an industrial park on their land.

Nearly 800 people were arrested Friday from all over the state of West Bengal, said Raj Kanojia, a senior police officer.

Schools, colleges and businesses were also closed across the state as part of a daylong protest strike, which halted long-distance train and bus services, Kanojia added.

Several buses were burned in Calcutta, the state capital, but police dispersed protesting mobs before they could do more damage, he said.

The opposition activists — from the Trinamool Congress, the Hindu nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party and the Socialist Union Center of India — took to the streets in several towns to vent their anger at the killing of 14 people in clashes Wednesday between farmers and police in Nandigram, an area in the southern part of the state.

No fresh clashes were reported in Nandigram on Friday but the situation remained tense, said another senior police officer, Arun Gupta.

"There have been minor incidences of road blockades in Nandigram, but no violence has been reported," Gupta told The Associated Press.

A team from India's top investigating agency, the Central Bureau of Intelligence, arrived in Nandigram to begin investigating the violence.

On Wednesday, thousands of protesting farmers fought police with rocks, machetes and pickaxes. Police retaliated with gunfire that killed at least 10 protesters. Another four were said to have died from other injuries sustained in the violence.

The Nandigram clashes mirrored violence in the area in January, which prompted the federal government to suspend plans to establish scores of Special Economic Zones intended to attract overseas investors with generous tax breaks.

Most of the zones, including the one to be set up in Nandigram, would be built on farmland.

On Friday, Jyoti Basu, a key leader of the communists who govern West Bengal and a former top elected official in the state, criticized the police handling of the situation.

"This is an unfortunate incident. From television clippings, I could only see the police firing. I didn't see any villagers attacking the policemen," Basu said.

The trouble in Nandigram began Jan. 7 after the leak of a government plan to acquire 22,000 acres of land in the area, and to build a petrochemical plant and shipyard.

The hastily formed Bhumi Ucched Pratirodh, meaning Land Acquisition Resistance Committee in the region's Bengali language, organized protests that quickly degenerated into violent clashes.