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Strikes cripple much of the country

Shutdown in protest at economic reforms

Workers stand outside shops closed up in Bareilly, Uttar Pradesh Workers stand outside shops closed up in Bareilly, Uttar Pradesh
  • Ritu Sharma, New Delhi
  • India
  • September 20, 2012
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Right and left-wing opposition parties joined forces in an outbreak of nationwide strikes today. The strikers are protesting against recently announced economic reforms by Prime Minister Manmohan Singh.

The main opposition Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) and other parties joined 25,000 trade associations representing 50 million traders to show their anger at reduced fuel subsidies and the opening of the retail sector to foreign investors.

Shops, schools and offices were closed by the one-day action in cities across India. In some states, the strikers blockaded railway tracks. In Uttar Pradesh, protesters burned effigies of the prime minister, according to media reports.

“The UPA government does not have the mandate or the right to push ahead with these policies,” said Prakash Karat, general-secretary of the Communist Party of India (Marxist).

Only areas controlled by the ruling United Progressive Alliance escaped the worst of the strikes, including Assam, Rajasthan, the capital New Delhi and the southwestern coastal state of Kerala, where political parties were on strike last week.

The Assam state government reportedly announced pay cuts and disciplinary action for those who did not report for work.

Singh’s reforms, designed to reignite stagnant foreign investment and economic growth, include a reduction in diesel subsidies - resulting in a 14 percent rise in pump prices - and the opening of the retail sector to multinational firms, who will be expected to compete directly with millions of family traders.

Many view the measures as an assault by Singh on India’s poor.

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