India on Friday summoned Canada’s ambassador and warned of serious damage to diplomatic ties after prime minister Justin Trudeau commented on growing protests by farmers, authorities said.

Trudeau however refused to back down, saying Ottawa would always back the rights of peaceful demonstrators.

Tens of thousands of Indian farmers had been trying for more than a week to encircle the capital New Delhi in protest at new laws on farm produce trading.

There had been clashes with police and Trudeau released a Twitter video this week calling the events ‘concerning’ and saying farmers should be allowed to stage peaceful protests.

The protests were led by farmers from Punjab, an Indian state which accounts for many migrants in Canada.

The Indian foreign ministry said that it had summoned Canada’s top diplomat for a warning over ‘unacceptable interference’ in India’s internal affairs.

‘Such actions, if continued, would have a seriously damaging impact on ties between India and Canada,’ said a statement.

The ministry said ‘ill-informed’ comments by Trudeau and other Canadian politicians had encouraged ‘extremist’ gatherings in front of Indian missions in Canada.

‘We expect the Canadian government to ensure the fullest security of Indian diplomatic personnel and its political leaders to refrain from pronouncements that legitimise extremist activism,’ it said.

In Ottawa on Friday, Trudeau told reporters, ‘Canada will always stand up for the right of peaceful protests and human rights anywhere around the world.’

He added he was ‘pleased to see moves towards de-escalation and dialogue’ between farmers and the Indian government.

New Delhi had passed reforms which enable farmers to sell produce anywhere in India and avoid state-run markets.

Farming still dominated the country’s economy and formed a powerful political bloc, but it had been in crisis for many years.

Thousands of small farmers had committed suicide in recent years, blaming their debts.

Two entry points into New Delhi were now being guarded by heavily armed security forces against farmers who wanted to protest in the capital.

Talks between ministers and protesters had hit a stalemate and media reported that on Thursday farm leaders refused to eat or drink anything offered by the government during negotiations.

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