No progress in talks between farmers, Indian government

NEW DELHI (AP) — Representatives of the Indian government and tens of thousands of protesting farmers failed to make progress Friday in their eighth round of talks over the farmers' demand that new agricultural reform laws be scrapped.

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Agriculture Minister Narendra Tomar offered to amend any flaws in the three laws but refused to repeal them, prompting the farmers to continue their 44-day-old blockade of highways linking the capital with the country’s north.

The two sides agreed to meet again on Jan. 15, said Hannan Mollah, a leader of the farmers. "We can’t accept anything other than the repeal of the three new laws,” he said.

Television images showed the farmers at the negotiating table with placards reading, "We will win or die.”

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

The issue is likely to be taken up on Monday by the Supreme Court, which may consider delaying the laws' implementation while it weighs petitions by the farmers challenging the legislation.

On Thursday, the farmers drove hundreds of tractors on highways around the capital to press their demands. They have threatened to hold a massive rally in New Delhi on Jan. 26, when India celebrates Republic Day.

On Dec. 30, the two sides reached a consensus on two issues — 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.