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Protesting Indian farmers, government reach partial accord

Representatives of the Indian government and tens of thousands of protesting farmers held talks on Wednesday after a hiatus of three weeks and reached agreement on two of the four issues that caused the farmers to blockade highways near the capital, officials said.

Agriculture Minister Narendra Singh Tomar said he and the leaders of 40 farmers’ groups agreed to meet again on Jan. 4 to resolve the remaining two key issues — the farmers' demands that three new agriculture reform laws be repealed and that the government maintain a guaranteed minimum price for wheat, rice and some other crops.

Tomar said he appealed to the farmers to immediately end their blockade of the highways but their leaders declined.

Farmer leaders raise their hands together before going in for a meeting with government representatives in New Delhi, India, Wednesday, Dec. 30, 2020. Protesting farmers fear the government will stop buying grain at minimum guaranteed prices and corporations will then push down prices. The government says the three laws approved by Parliament in September will enable farmers to market their produce and boost production through private investment. (AP PhotoManish Swarup)

Ignoring the coronavirus pandemic, the farmers have been blockading highways connecting New Delhi to northern India for nearly five weeks, obstructing transportation and dealing a blow to manufacturing and businesses in the north.

Paramjit Singh, a leader of the farmers, said there was a positive shift in the government’s attitude toward their demands in the more than five hours of talks Wednesday from earlier meetings.

He said he was confident of a positive outcome during next week’s talks, but that the farmers will continue their blockade until all of their demands are met.

Security officers stand guard outside the venue where farmer leaders are meeting with government representatives in New Delhi, India, Wednesday, Dec. 30, 2020. Protesting farmers fear the government will stop buying grain at minimum guaranteed prices and corporations will then push down prices. The government says the three laws approved by Parliament in September will enable farmers to market their produce and boost production through private investment. (AP PhotoManish Swarup)

Tomar said the two sides agreed Wednesday that the government would continue its subsidy of electricity for irrigating farms and that farmers would not be punished for burning crop residues, a cause of air pollution.

Farmers fear the government will stop buying grain at minimum guaranteed prices and that corporations will then push prices down under the new laws. The government said it is willing to pledge that guaranteed prices will continue.

The farmers say the new laws will lead to the cartelization and commercialization of agriculture and make farmers vulnerable to corporate greed.

Indian paramilitary force soldiers man a barricade to stop protesting farmers entering Delhi at the Delhi-Uttar Pradesh state border, India, Wednesday, Dec. 30, 2020. Protesting farmers fear the government will stop buying grain at minimum guaranteed prices and corporations will then push down prices. The government says the three laws approved by Parliament in September will enable farmers to market their produce and boost production through private investment. (AP PhotoManish Swarup)

Indian media reports said protesters in northern Punjab state damaged more than 1,000 mobile phone towers and telecom equipment belonging to Reliance Industries Ltd., a private conglomerate, which they say will benefit from the new laws.

Tomar appealed to the farmers not to damage equipment, saying it causes hardship to people.

an Indian farmer listens to speech of a fellow farmer as they block a highway in protest against new farm laws at the Delhi-Uttar Pradesh state border, on the outskirts of New Delhi, India, Wednesday, Dec. 30, 2020. Protesting farmers fear the government will stop buying grain at minimum guaranteed prices and corporations will then push down prices. The government says the three laws approved by Parliament in September will enable farmers to market their produce and boost production through private investment. (AP PhotoManish Swarup)AP PhotoManish Swarup)

An Indian farmer gets a shave as they block a highway in protest against new farm laws at the Delhi-Uttar Pradesh state border, on the outskirts of New Delhi, India, Wednesday, Dec. 30, 2020. Protesting farmers fear the government will stop buying grain at minimum guaranteed prices and corporations will then push down prices. The government says the three laws approved by Parliament in September will enable farmers to market their produce and boost production through private investment. (AP PhotoManish Swarup)

An Indian farmer addresses fellow farmers blocking a highway in protest against new farm laws at the Delhi-Uttar Pradesh state border, on the outskirts of New Delhi, India, Wednesday, Dec. 30, 2020. Protesting farmers fear the government will stop buying grain at minimum guaranteed prices and corporations will then push down prices. The government says the three laws approved by Parliament in September will enable farmers to market their produce and boost production through private investment. (AP PhotoManish Swarup)

Indian farmers hold a meeting as they block a highway in protest against new farm laws at the Delhi-Uttar Pradesh state border, on the outskirts of New Delhi, India, Wednesday, Dec. 30, 2020. Protesting farmers fear the government will stop buying grain at minimum guaranteed prices and corporations will then push down prices. The government says the three laws approved by Parliament in September will enable farmers to market their produce and boost production through private investment. (AP PhotoManish Swarup)

Farmer leaders stand together before going in for a meeting with government representatives in New Delhi, India, Wednesday, Dec. 30, 2020. Protesting farmers fear the government will stop buying grain at minimum guaranteed prices and corporations will then push down prices. The government says the three laws approved by Parliament in September will enable farmers to market their produce and boost production through private investment. (AP PhotoManish Swarup)

Nihangs or Sikh warriors stand outside their makeshift tents as they block a highway in protest against new farm laws at the Delhi-Uttar Pradesh state border, on the outskirts of New Delhi, India, Wednesday, Dec. 30, 2020. Protesting farmers fear the government will stop buying grain at minimum guaranteed prices and corporations will then push down prices. The government says the three laws approved by Parliament in September will enable farmers to market their produce and boost production through private investment. (AP PhotoManish Swarup)

A family of an Indian farmer prepares food for fellow farmers as they block a highway in protest against new farm laws at the Delhi-Uttar Pradesh state border, on the outskirts of New Delhi, India, Wednesday, Dec. 30, 2020. Protesting farmers fear the government will stop buying grain at minimum guaranteed prices and corporations will then push down prices. The government says the three laws approved by Parliament in September will enable farmers to market their produce and boost production through private investment. (AP PhotoManish Swarup)