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Strike over fuel prices disrupts cities across India

International Desk |
Update: 2010-07-04 15:41:26
Strike over fuel prices disrupts cities across India

NEW DELHI: Police came out in force in cities across India on Monday for an opposition-led national strike over fuel price rises that disrupted flights and train services, and closed schools and businesses.

The strike was called by the main opposition Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) and leftist parties in a concerted show of strength against the Congress-led government`s reform programme.

The unlikely alliance of the right-wing BJP and leftist groups broadened the strike`s impact, disrupting normal life in a large number of states with non-Congress administrations.

In New Delhi, the government said it would not be bullied into reneging on reform promises, and Finance Minister Pranab Mukherjee insisted there was "no question" of rolling back on the fuel price hikes.

The government scrapped petrol subsidies last month and announced an across-the-board rise in the price of other fuels as a key part of its strategy to rein in a yawning fiscal deficit.

The inflationary knock-on effect of the increases is an issue that India`s fractured opposition can unite over, given simmering popular concern over steep rises in the cost of living.

The strike was widely observed in Indian`s financial capital, Mumbai, where police had rounded up 1,000 "trouble-makers" Sunday in a pre-emptive move to prevent any large-scale unrest.

Flights to and from Mumbai airport were severely disrupted, with domestic airlines cancelling 45 departures and 39 arrivals.

The city`s taxis were mostly off the streets, while most schools, colleges and businesses closed down, with some shopkeepers voicing concerns that the right-wing Shiv Sena party would use violence to enforce the strike call.

The Mumbai police`s rapid reaction force was on alert and some 40,000 officers were on the streets, city police commissioner Sanjeev Dayal said.

"We have taken all security measures to ensure no untoward incident takes place," Dyal said. "Anyone who takes the law into their hands and attempts to paralyse the city shall be dealt with strictly."

In Kolkata, the capital of the Marxist-controlled state of West Bengal, public transport was at a standstill and most flights were cancelled out of the main airport.

Demonstrators took to the streets and held sit-down protests to block some of the city`s key intersections, but there were no reports of any violence.

The Indian capital, which is controlled by a Congress administration was relatively normal, but with a heavy police presence on the streets.

BDST: 12:17 HRS, July 5, 2010

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