Shots fired at protest kill 5 farmers in central India

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Farmers blocked highways and held protests across a central Indian state Wednesday, a day after five farmers were killed by gunshots at a rally.

Madhya Pradesh farmers have protested for several weeks demanding better prices for crops and waivers from the state government for repayment of farm loans.

Three successive years of drought have pushed farmers into poverty, and hundreds have killed themselves because they were unable to pay off debts.

Farmers at the rally Tuesday in the Mandsaur district of the state said police fired shots to disperse the participants. But district official S.K. Singh said an investigation has been ordered after police denied that they opened fire on the protesters.

At protests in other districts, farmers blocked highways and disrupted traffic. Other protests occurred in neighboring Maharashtra and southern Tamil Nadu states. The Maharashtra government last week conceded to one demand by ordering a waiver of farm loans for small and marginal farmers.

Prime Minister Narendra Modi's ruling Bharatiya Janata Party, which came to power three years ago, promised better crop prices and the waiving of farm loans to help farmers across the country. BJP is the ruling party in both Madhya Pradesh and Maharashtra states.