Protests and strikes erupt over India's new state

HYDERABAD (AFP) - Protests erupted on Wednesday in southeast India a day after the national ruling coalition approved the creation of a new state, leading to hundreds of arrests, police and reports said.

Protests were staged in the coastal and southern regions of Andhra Pradesh state against the creation of Telangana state, while a strike shut some schools and businesses, police and witnesses said.

Demonstrators pelted police with stones, injuring some officers, and damaged buses, at rallies in the district of Anantapur, area inspector Gorantla Madhav told AFP.

A local office of the Congress party in Anantapur was also partly damaged when protesters attacked it, Mr Madhav said.

The street protests, which blocked traffic on main roads in the coastal and southern Rayalaseema regions, were largely peaceful, although police said over 500 people were arrested.

"Above 500 people have been arrested in Chittoor, Kadapa and Anantapur districts," police inspector general R.K. Reddy said.

India's Congress party approved a resolution on Tuesday for the state of Telangana to be carved out of Andhra Pradesh state, despite fears the decision could spark violence in the region which includes the IT hub Hyderabad.

Prime Minister Manmohan Singh and Congress leaders bowed to longstanding demands for Telangana, noting campaigns for a separate state date back to 1956.

The move must still be approved by parliament but the state's creation has the backing of the main opposition Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) which had earlier accused the government of "dilly-dallying" on the issue.

The new state, India's 29th, would be created out of an impoverished, drought-prone mainly tribal belt that supporters say has been neglected by successive Andhra Pradesh governments.

But Andhra Pradesh's wealthier regions strongly oppose the move, partly because they would lose Hyderabad, home to tech firms including Facebook and Google, although it would be a shared state capital for 10 years.

Some lawmakers, including some from the Congress party in the state assembly, say they may quit over the state's creation, reports said.

"We were strongly demanding a united state and are opposing all types of proposals made by the Congress working committee," said Sake Sailajanath, the state education minister.

"I am talking with my supporters in this regard and will take a decision on my resignation in one or two days," he said.

Public transport ground to a halt in some strike-hit districts and university students held campus protests, an AFP correspondent and reports said.

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