Three farmers were killed and 30 injured on Friday when police opened fire at thousands of protesters demanding drought assistance in the southern Philippines, organisers said.

The demonstrators had blocked off a highway in Kidapawan City, 955 kilometres south of Manila, since Wednesday to demand government help for farm communities affected by the dry spell in the southern region of Mindanao.

Police opened fire while dispersing the protesters, killing three of them, said Norma Capuyan, a leader of one of the organizations coordinating the demonstration.

“They destroyed our sound system and fired water cannons at us,” she said.

But the protesters held their line, prompting the police to open fire, she said. “They used high-powered rifles like the M16.”

North Cotabato Governor Emmylou Talino Mendoza said only two protesters were killed.

She added that the protesters started the hostilities when they threw stones at police officers who were only trying to remove minors from the barricade.

“They were sent to rescue the children with the help of social workers,” the governor said.

At least one gunshot was also heard from the protesters’ side, and that 24 police officers were injured in the confrontation, Mendoza said.

The protesters were demanding that the provincial government release 15,000 sacks of rice as assistance to the families of farmers affected by the dry spell.

Presidential spokesman Herminio Coloma said the police would investigate.

“Accountability is being established and appropriate sanctions will be meted out if justified by the findings,” he said.

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