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Last Updated: Saturday, 20 November, 2004, 11:18 GMT
Indian PM visits troubled Manipur
Manipur protest
Manipur has been on the boil since July
Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh has begun a visit to the troubled north-eastern state of Manipur.

Separatist rebels in the state have called for a general strike to coincide with the prime minister's visit.

Manipur has been on the boil since the killing and alleged rape of a Manipuri woman held by Indian soldiers in July.

Since then, pressure has mounted on the government to withdraw a controversial security law used to fight insurgents. Mr Singh has said he will review it.

The Armed Forces Special Powers Act gives the military sweeping powers, including the right to shoot suspects on sight.

The outlawed People's Liberation Army (PLA) said in a statement that the people of Manipur should observe a strike on Saturday since they could expect nothing from Mr Singh's visit.

Another rebel group, United National Liberation Front (UNLF), has also supported the strike call.

The PLA's political wing, the Revolutionary People's Front (RPF), said in a statement that while Mr Singh had announced a partial pullout of Indian troops from the disputed region of Kashmir, it was sending more soldiers to Manipur.

Troops on alert

During his first visit to the region, Manmohan Singh was to lay the foundation stone for a new railway and give a speech in the capital, Imphal.

Manipur Chief Minister Okram Ibobi Singh said he expected the prime minister to announce an economic package for the state, AFP news agency reported.

Indian troops were on high alert for the visit after the strike called by the separatist groups.

A rebel statement meanwhile urged people to "remain indoors and boycott the prime minister".

"There is no reason to celebrate the visit of the prime minister of a country that had forcibly annexed Manipur," it said.

Many businesses have observed the call.

"Shops and businesses remained closed, while movement of vehicles on the streets across Manipur is thin due to the boycott call," a senior police official in Imphal told AFP.

Humane law

The Indian army began a massive offensive against the Manipur rebel bases on the India-Burma border late last month.

The UNLF said in a statement that Indian security forces were "torturing and harassing" villagers during the offensive.

In another development, Apunba Lup, a collection of 32 student and human rights groups from Manipur, has said it will resume its protests if Mr Singh does not announce the withdrawal of the controversial law.

A spokesman for the prime minister has said he will consider how a more humane law could be put in place that addressed India's security concerns while respecting people's rights.

Manipur has been hit by protests since the bullet-riddled body of Manorama Devi was discovered in July, a day after she was arrested by the paramilitary Assam Rifles.

The government says Ms Devi was a member of a separatist group but her family denies this.

Protesters block Manipur highways
21 Sep 04 |  South Asia
Woman at the centre of Manipur storm
27 Aug 04 |  South Asia
Fresh protests erupt in Manipur
19 Aug 04 |  South Asia
Crackdown on Manipur protesters
19 Aug 04 |  South Asia

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