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India heavily increases security at farmer protest sites

NEW DELHI (AP) — Indian authorities heavily increased security at three main protest sites outside New Delhi’s border on Tuesday, adding iron spikes, steel barricades and hundreds of riot police in an attempt to stop tens of thousands of demonstrating farmers from entering the capital.

In Ghazipur, one of the protest sites, iron nails were embedded along the main highway. Cemented barricades were wrapped with coils of barbed wires as government forces guarded what looked like a security fortress.

Images of the barricades were widely shared on social media, with many comparing them to heavily militarized border fences.

Devender Singh, a protesting farmer from central Uttar Pradesh state, said the new security arrangements were intended to scare them away. “But farmers won't run away so easily,” he said.

The months-long farmer protests have rattled Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s government. Tens of thousands of farmers have camped on the outskirts of the city, braving the cold and rain, in a largely peaceful protest against new agriculture reform laws they say will devastate their income and make farmers vulnerable to corporate greed.

The heavy security and added measures come a week after the protests turned violent when farmers on tractors, horses and on foot broke through barricades and clashed with police to enter the city. They stormed New Delhi's 17th century Red Fort in a brief but dramatic takeover on Jan. 26, India's Republic Day.

One protester died and several hundred police officers were injured in the clashes. Officials have not said how many farmers were injured.

The situation remains tense, with authorities extending an internet shutdown at the protest sites to midnight Tuesday.

On Monday, Twitter temporarily suspended the account of one of the protesting farmers' groups, Kisan Ekta Morcha, but restored it hours later after online outrage. The social media platform said in a statement that it acted upon a “valid legal request” issued by an authority, adding that it may withhold access to “certain content” if it receives a “properly scoped request from an authorized entity.”

Samyukta Kisan Morcha, or United Farmers Front, a coalition of farmers spearheading the protests, said the measures are “part of multiple attacks being organized by the government, police and administration.”

The group has said it will hold a three-hour nationwide strike on Saturday.

Rahul Gandhi, senior leader of the main opposition Congress Party, condemned the new measures, tweeting: “Build bridges, not walls!”

Multiple rounds of talks between the government and the farmers have failed to end the stalemate.

Farmers say the new laws will lead to the cartelization and commercialization of agriculture. The Modi government has said the reforms will benefit farmers and boost production through private investment.