NEW DELHI, India (CNN) -- At least 16 police officers, including five women, died in a shootout that erupted after suspected Maoists ambushed them Thursday in central India, a state official said.
The police were on a patrol when they were attacked with gunfire, Atul Patne, top administrative official of Maharashtra state's Gadchiroli district, told CNN Thursday night.
Patne said there was no immediate information about Maoist casualties.
The attack occurred in a locality where Maoists had called a strike for Thursday, he added.
The rebels, known as the Naxalites, say they are fighting to defend the rights of the poor. They are active in several Indian states.
The insurgents often attack landlords, police and sometimes government officials.
The rebels claim to be inspired by Chinese revolutionary Mao Zedong, who led China from 1949 until his death in 1976.
Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh once described the Maoist insurgency as the single biggest security threat to his country.
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