HYDERABAD, India (Reuters) - Police fired tear gas Thursday at protesters demanding a separate state in southern India, a campaign that could potentially hurt the stability of the governing coalition already struggling with graft scandals.
Businesses were shut in Hyderabad, the capital of Andhra Pradesh state and where global firms including Microsoft and Google have their main India offices, as thousands of protesters, including lawmakers, students and local government officials, took to the streets.
The four-decade-old demand for Telengana state to be carved out of the economically less developed part of Andhra Pradesh gathered momentum last year after the federal government, led by Prime Minister Manmohan Singh's Congress party, accepted it in principle.
But the decision triggered a backlash from those opposed to breaking up Andhra Pradesh, a politically important state which sends the highest number of lawmakers to the federal parliament, forcing the ruling Congress-led coalition to backtrack.
Thursday, supporters of creating Telengana took to the streets in a show of force. A few protesters shouting slogans broke through barricades set up around Hyderabad, prompting police to fire tear gas.
"This march is a warning to the government that people of Telengana will settle for nothing less than a separate state. Arrests and bans can't deter us," said Lakshma Reddy, a student taking part in the march.
The campaign for Telengana has split Singh's Congress with 11 of the party's 33 lawmakers from Andhra Pradesh threatening to resign if he didn't agree to the new state by the end of the year.
Singh's coalition, already under pressure from allies over a raft of corruption scandals, has a wafer-thin majority in parliament and loss of support will force it to look for new allies, making it vulnerable to pressure from these parties.
Supporters for Telengana state say that a large part of the north and western parts of Andhra Pradesh has been neglected by successive governments and trail other regions in economic development.
India has 28 states and the last time new states were created was around the turn of the century. Besides Telengana, there are demands for new states in western and eastern India.
(Writing by C.J. Kuncheria; Editing by Sanjeev Miglani and Miral Fahmy)