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MUMBAI (Reuters) - Three Indian farmers were shot dead on Tuesday at a protest in the central state of Madhya Pradesh, according to news reports, marking an escalation of violence as a rural strike demanding debt relief spread.

The farmers died after being shot during a protest in Mandsaur, according to reports that quoted witnesses as saying they had been shot by police.

A state police spokesman reached by Reuters said: "The situation is very tense. We can't confirm anything."

The strike began on Thursday in the big western state of Maharashtra, with farmers dumping produce and milk on the street to demand billions of dollars in debt forgiveness and better prices for their produce.

They also blocked highways, preventing delivery trucks from reaching city markets. Prices of fresh produce more than doubled in cities including the state capital, Mumbai.

Some farmers' leaders in Maharashtra agreed at the weekend to call off their action after Chief Minister Devendra Fadnavis said he would meet their demand for a waiver on farmer loans. Other farm unions vowed to continue the protest.

The strike has since spread to Madhya Pradesh. Both states are governed by Prime Minister Narendra Modi's nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party.

(Reporting by Rajendra Jadhav; Writing by Douglas Busvine; Editing by Nick Macfie)

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