At least eight people were killed when violence broke out in India’s Uttar Pradesh state on Sunday after a car linked to a federal minister ran over two farmers taking part in a protest against controversial farm laws.
A farmers’ union spokesperson said Sunday the deaths happened after a convoy of vehicles associated with junior home affairs minister Ajay Mishra Teni “ran over several protesters.”
The incident took place in the Lakhimpur Kheri district, about 130 kilometers (81 miles) north of the state’s capital Lucknow.
“In the unfortunate incident of Lakhimpur, eight casualties have been reported till now as per the district administration,” state police tweeted in the early hours of Monday morning.
CNN has reached out to police officials for confirmation of the reports but has not yet heard back.
Protests in Lakhimpur Kheri began on September 25 after Teni reportedly said “farmers should reform themselves or they will be reformed,” according to CNN affiliate CNN-News18.
Tensions escalated Sunday when the state’s deputy chief minister was due to visit the district alongside Teni. Protesters blocked the helipad where he was due to land, and the ministers were forced to make their journey by road, leading to violence with Teni’s convoy.
Teni denied farmers’ allegations that his son was present at the incident, but said a car driven by “our driver” had lost control and hit the farmers after “miscreants” pelted stones at the vehicle and attacked it with sticks and swords, Reuters reported.
“If my son would’ve been there, he wouldn’t have come out alive,” he told Reuters TV partner ANI.
The incident sparked further protests and road blockades in some parts of the state and prompted an outcry on social media from opposition leaders.
Mukul Goel, the state’s director-general of police, told CNN-News18 that four of the eight killed on Sunday were farmers, and the remaining four died during subsequent violence after protesters set a car on fire.
In a statement posted on Twitter Sunday, Uttar Pradesh Chief Minister Yogi Adityanath called the incident “very sad and unfortunate,” adding that “strict action will be taken against the culprits.”
“Before jumping to conclusions, please wait for the ongoing investigation and the action thereafter,” he posted in a separate tweet.
A number of national and regional opposition leaders were set to visit the families of the victims on Monday.
In India’s longest-running agricultural protest, tens of thousands of farmers have camped for months on major highways to New Delhi to oppose the three laws. They say the legislation will erode a longstanding mechanism that gives farmers a minimum guaranteed price for their rice and wheat.
The government says the laws will help growers get better prices.
The protests have gained momentum in Uttar Pradesh ahead of the state assembly election next year, with a group of influential farmer leaders ratcheting up pressure on Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s government to roll back the laws.
Additional reporting by Reuters.