03-20-2018  3:00 am      •     
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By Aloke Devichand and Tim Hume

At least 22 schoolchildren died in northeastern India after eating free school lunches that contained a poison, a state official said.

More than 25 others have been hospitalized in Bihar state, said education minister P.K. Shahi, after ingesting an insecticide that was in the food.

The chemical was organophosphorous, which is commonly used in agriculture, the Centers for Disease Control has said. Exposure to a high dose can cause an irregular heartbeat, difficulty breathing, paralysis, and seizures.

Speaking on CNN's sister network CNN-IBN, district magistrate Abhijit Sinha said an inquiry into the deaths had been launched.

CNN-IBN reported that the children, ages between 8 and 12, were from Dharamsati, a village in Saran district, Bihar state. It said their deaths on Tuesday had triggered violent protests in Chhapra, the headquarters of Saran district, the following day, and a call from politicians for a general strike.

Madhusudan Paswan, Saran's district education officer, told CNN that 31 of the affected children had been sent from the local Sadar Hospital to Patna Medical College Hospital in the state capital on Tuesday night.

CNN-IBN quoted Bihar's Education Minister PK Sahi claiming the deaths were a clear result of poisoning, and a probe would determine whether the contamination was accidental or deliberate.

Since a landmark Supreme Court decision in 2001, all government schools in India have been required to provide free meals to students below the age of 13.

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