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Friday, December 11, 1998 Published at 15:58 GMT

World: South Asia

Businesses disrupted by India strike

Bank employees in Bombay stage a mass sit-in protest

Tens of thousands of workers in India staged a one-day nationwide strike on Friday, causing disruption to several parts of India.

BBC Delhi Correspondent Daniel Lak: This sends the wrong signals out to potential investors in India
The strike, called by Communist and other left-wing trade unions, was in protest against the government's plan to privatise state-run companies and carry out further free market reforms.

In the southern state of Kerala, buses were not operating, trains were running late while shops, businesses, schools and banks remained closed.

West Bengal, where the ruling Left Front is supporting the strike, was also paralysed, with shops, banks, schools and the metrol rail service all closed.

The state-owned airline also cancelled services for the day in and out of the state capital, Calcutta.

In the southern Tamil Nadu state, public transport was badly disrupted but state police assured shopkeepers who wished to continue trading that they would be provided with adequate security.

Large shops and businesses remained shut in several towns in the eastern state of Bihar, and activists sought to disrupt train services by obstructing the tracks.

However, the capital, Delhi, was not seriously affected, with banks and businesses functioning and buses running as normal.

However, the speaker of the upper house of parliament adjourned proceedings for the day after opposition members repeatedly disrupted question hour by shouting strike slogans.

Strike for change

The one-day general strike comes as the government continues to press ahead with plans to open up areas of the economy, such as insurance, to foreign investment.

While trade unions have said they are determined to take the action, ministers have appealed for them to call it off, saying it will cost the nation millions of dollars - and scare off badly needed foreign investment.

India lost out when the US imposed sanctions imposed in the wake of its nuclear weapons tests conducted earlier in the year.

The government says hundreds of thousands of jobs will be lost if the most ambitious privatisation plans are not pushed through.

Supporters of privatisation say it will prompt an economic boom which would eventually compensate for any short-term job losses.

On the eve of the strike, Industry Minister Sikander Bakht predicted in parliament that the strike would achieve nothing.

BBC Delhi correspondent Daniel Lak says the real cost of the strike will be in the negative message it sends to potential foreign investors.

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