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India police tear gas protesters outside state parliament

NEW DELHI: Riot police in the southern Indian state of Kerala on Friday fired tear gas and water cannons as an opposition attempt to block the state government from presenting its annual budget turned violent.

Hundreds of opposition activists protested outside the state parliament in Thiruvananthapuram city, as lawmakers inside the chamber flung computer keyboards and threw the speaker’s chair over a railing — a rare note of discord in a state that is best known for its white sandy beaches and tranquil inland riverways.

Television images showed riot police wearing helmets and carrying batons and shields, pushing back protesters wearing the trademark red hats of the opposition Left Democratic Front (LDF) coalition outside the parliament building.

The protests began when the opposition tried to prevent state finance minister K M Mani from presenting Kerala’s annual budget following calls for his dismissal over allegations of corruption.

Opposition activists wanted to stop Mani entering from the parliament building on Friday, but he reportedly locked himself in a room in the complex overnight, emerging in the morning to present the budget to loud heckles.

Four lawmakers were injured in the fracas, while one protester died of a heart attack outside the building, reports said.

Mani is under formal investigation over claims he accepted bribes from bar owners to allow them to continue operating after a state ban on the sale of alcohol was announced last year and is now being implemented.

Kerala has the highest per-capita alcohol consumption of any Indian state. After the ban is fully implemented, only four and five star hotels and state-owned shops will be allowed to sell alcohol.

Kerala’s government is led by the centre-left Congress party, which was ousted from power in national elections last year amid public anger over corruption and slowing economic growth. (AFP)

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