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Protests Continue At Factory Of World’s Cheapest Car

Thousands of angry farmers protested Sunday outside a Tata Motors factory that manufactures India's $2,500 car, demanding the return of their lands.

CALCUTTA, India (AP) -- Thousands of angry farmers protested Sunday outside a factory that manufactures the world's cheapest car in India's West Bengal state to demand the return of land they say was taken from them without proper compensation.

The farmers claim that India's Tata Motors has not paid them proper compensation for the 997 acres (405 hectares) the company acquired in Singur, a village 20 miles (30 kilometers) northwest of Calcutta, the state capital.

The land is now the site of a factory producing the Nano automobile, which is scheduled to go on sale by the end of the year for US$2,500. Repeated protests, however, could delay the launch.

Nearly 3,000 armed police surrounded the factory Sunday as thousands of farmers gathered, but no violence had been reported.

"We have water cannons ready to cope with any eventuality," said the area's superintendent of police, Rajiv Mishra.

Protesters with posters, banners and flags lined both sides of the highway leading to the factory.

"We want our land back. Money cannot compensate our losses. We are farmers and we want to live by farming," said Bibekanada Das, a farmer who said he lost about two acres (less than a hectare) of land.

"The Tatas should bow down before people's power and return the land," Mamta Banerjee, chief of the opposition Trinamool Congress party, told reporters as she joined the protesters.

Banerjee's party has led the fight against Tata and last week called for the company to return 400 acres (160 hectares) of land to the farmers.

On Friday the chairman of the Tata Group, Ratan Tata, threatened to move the factory out of West Bengal if the protests persist.

"If the state for any reason ... feels that we are exploiting them, if that is the feeling, we will exit," Tata told reporters in Calcutta.

"We can't operate the plant with police protection," he said, adding that protesters had attacked Tata employees and stolen equipment from the factory site.

Tata did not say when he would decide whether to leave the state, and did not address how the possible move would affect production of the Nano.

West Bengal has been the center of a national debate about acquiring farmland for factories in India, where about two-thirds of the more than 1 billion people live off agriculture.

The controversy came to a head last year when police gunned down 14 protesters in Nandigram, a nearby district in West Bengal, causing an outcry that eventually scuttled a planned special economic zone designed to draw foreign investment.

Tata has the support of the Communist government that has ruled West Bengal for three decades, but a coalition of opposition parties has strongly fought the project because it opposes using fertile farmland for industry.

Tata Group, founded in 1868, is one of India's largest business conglomerates, with interests spanning steel, software services, hotels, chemicals and insurance.

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