Indian sets himself on fire in new state protest

KOLKATA (AFP) - A protester has died after setting himself on fire to press for a new state in eastern India, following moves to create another state elsewhere, police said on Sunday.

The 24-year-old died in hospital after setting himself ablaze as part of protests that have erupted mostly in the Darjeeling hills for a separate state to be carved out of West Bengal state, a police official said.

"Activist Mangal Singh Rajput, who set himself on fire ... on July 30, died of burns at Siliguri Hospital on Saturday," said West Bengal deputy police chief Banibrata Basu.

A strike and protests have in recent days hit the Darjeeling hills, where mainly ethnic Nepalis have waged a long and sometimes violent campaign for a state called Gorkhaland.

The campaign was renewed after India's ruling Congress party approved a resolution on July 30 to create a new state in the southeast.

Prime Minister Manmohan Singh, Congress president Sonia Gandhi and other senior party leaders agreed to grant longstanding demands for the state of Telangana to be carved out of Andhra Pradesh state.

The move fuelled demands by activists that Gorkhaland be carved out of parts of Darjeeling and its neighbouring district of Jalpaiguri.

"We have nothing to do with the state government. We won't hold talks with them. We will only deal with the central government," said Gorkha leader Bimal Gurung.