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Last Updated: Wednesday, 11 April 2007, 16:49 GMT 17:49 UK
Strike affects iconic Indian car
Sikh taxi driver with fleet
The car is a favourite among taxi drivers
An industrial dispute in India's West Bengal state has halted production of the country's famous Ambassador cars.

Hindustan Motors has temporarily shut the sole plant making the vehicles near Calcutta saying a fortnight of labour unrest had affected production.

Workers went on strike a month ago over a range of issues. More than 20 have been hurt in clashes with police.

The plant is near one being built by Tata Motors who plan to make a "People's Car" for 100,000 rupees each.

The Ambassador, modelled on the old British Morris Oxford, was once a symbol of India. But it has recently been facing a tough time competing with newer cars on the market.

'Agitators'

The strike follows recent violence in the state over plans to acquire farmland for industry in Singur and Nandigram districts.

West Bengal's Marxist-led government says it will do all it can to reopen the plant.

"This is the last thing we wanted after the furore over the land acquisition controversies," said state labour minister Mrinal Banerji.

He said the plant management had cleared the dues of most workers and more than 2,000 of them had agreed to rejoin work.

Mr Banerji said "agitators" from the SSKU, a union backed by opposition parties, were not allowing them to work and resorting to violence, "forcing us to send in the police".

SSKU president Amitabha Bhattacharya said most workers were backing their strike and the ruling Marxists were bringing "outsiders" to break it.

"The police also beat up our people, the workers, instead of acting against the outsiders," he said.

Asked if the company approved of police tactics, Hindustan Motors spokesperson Soni Srivastava said: "We are trying to resolve the issue through the non-violent route."

The BBC's Subir Bhaumik in Calcutta says the state government is desperate to reopen the plant as it needs to attract investment after the recent land acquisition controversies.

He says industry watchers in Bengal believe the Hindustan Motors management closed the plant to calm temperatures following the violence at Nandigram where 14 people died after police were sent in.


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