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India's marching poor end their protest

NEW DELHI -- Tens of thousands of poor Indians fighting for land reform ended their protest march to New Delhi on Thursday after signing an agreement with the central government, a campaign spokesman said.

The protesters — mostly low-caste laborers, small-scale farmers and marginalized tribal people — gathered from across India eight days ago in the town of Gwalior, intending to march 350 kilometers (220 miles) to the capital.

Aneesh Thillenkery, spokesman for the main organizing activist group Ekta Parishad (Unity Forum), told AFP the group had stopped the march “because the government has signed an agreement with us.”

According to a copy of the document seen by AFP, the central government has pledged to draft a national land reforms policy and push state governments, which control land distribution, to help marginalized communities.

The proposed measures include the provision of agricultural land to India's vast numbers of rural, landless poor, whose condition has improved little despite the country's booming economy.

India's constitution does not allow the central government to carry out land reform without the consent of elected officials in the country's states.

The central government also promised to pressure state governments to provide legal aid to anyone from the lower castes or tribal communities who is involved in court cases over their access to land.

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A landless rural India woman cheers after P.V. Rajagopal, the leader of thousands of farmers, signed an agreement with Indian Rural Development Minister Jairam Ramesh, in Agra, about 185 kilometers (115 miles) southeast of New Delhi, Thursday, Oct. 11. (AP)

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