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Last Updated: Thursday, 30 September, 2004, 16:51 GMT 17:51 UK
Huge turnout for Indian Maoists
Preparations for the People's War Group rally
There were elaborate rehearsals for Thursday's rally
Tens of thousands of people have turned out for a rally called by a left-wing rebel group in the southern Indian state of Andhra Pradesh.

It is the first public rally by the rebel People's War Group (PWG) in the city of Hyderabad in nearly 15 years.

Just a year ago the PWG tried to assassinate the then chief minister of the state, Chandrababu Naidu.

The rally, seen as a rebel show of strength, comes ahead of peace talks with the government next month.

The turnout at the rally is so large the authorities opened the gates of a nearby football stadium to accommodate the people.

Supporters of the PWG and another left-wing rebel group, Janashakti, painted the city red.

The two Maoist groups said they would be prepared to hold direct talks with the state government in the second week of October.

The PWG has been fighting for people like us
Veer Babu
Farm worker at the rally
Supporters marched to the site, which was festooned with red banners and flags, singing revolutionary songs and carrying pictures of people allegedly killed by the police.

A giant screen was erected at one end to allow people to see and hear the rebel leaders.

"Peace, self-reliance and land to tillers is the theme of the rally," said Ghaddar, a poet and folk singer and supporter of the PWG.

"The PWG has been fighting for people like us," Veer Babu, a landless farm worker attending the rally, was quoted by the Associated Press.

Sea change

The BBC's Omer Farooq, who is at the rally, said it marked a sharp change in the situation in the state since the PWG tried to kill Chandrababu Naidu..

Mr Naidu has since been voted out of office and his successors, the Congress Party, have lifted a ban on the rebels and offered to hold peace talks with them.

The southern state of Andhra Pradesh, of which Hyderabad is the capital, is a stronghold of the PWG.

But the group is active in six other states spread across northern, central and southern India.

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