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Free school meal in India kills at least 20

More than 20 children have been confirmed dead after eating a free meal at a primary school in eastern India, a state minister has said. Dozens more have been hospitalized with at least 10 in a critical condition.

The death toll rose from eight to in excess of 20 on Wednesday, a day after the incident at a state-run school in India's Bihar state, local officials reported.

Another 30 children are still being treated in the hospital in the state capital Patna, state education minister P K Shahi said, adding that an investigation into the incident was underway.

The children, aged between eight and 11, fell ill around midday on Tuesday soon after eating the free school lunch in the village of Masrakh, 80 kilometers (50 miles) north of Patna.

The meal of lentils and rice was reportedly cooked in the school kitchen. Preliminary investigations suggest the meal may have contained traces of insecticide.

Angry protests

The incident prompted hundreds of angry villagers to take to the streets for a second day on Wednesday. Local villagers backed by opposition parties closed shops and businesses near the school, smashed windows and set fire to police vehicles.

According to district government official S.K. Mall, protesters are calling for stern action "against government officials responsible for this shocking incident."

Many state governments in India have launched a program to offer lunches to impoverished children in state-run schools. Malnutrition is considered a major health concern in Bihar, which is considered one of India's poorest states.

ccp/kms (AFP, AP)