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General Strike Shuts Down Bombay - 2003-07-30

India's commercial capital Bombay was shut down Wednesday by a general strike called by Hindu nationalists to protest a bomb attack by suspected Islamic militants. Strikers want better security in the city, as a massive Hindu festival takes place near Bombay.

Groups of activists of the right-wing Shiv Sena party threw stones at trains and buses, squatted on rail tracks, and prevented vehicles from plying Bombay's usually busy streets.

Schools, offices, banks and Bombay's stock exchange were disrupted by the one day general strike.

Sporadic violence occurred despite tight security in the city Wednesday.

The action was organized by the Hindu nationalist Shiv Sena Party and its ally, the Bharatiya Janata Party, to demand better security in the sprawling city of 14 million people.

Both parties are in the opposition in Maharashtra state. They blame the state government for failing to prevent a series of bomb blasts that have rocked the city in the last eight months.

The most recent bomb attack ripped apart a crowded bus in Bombay on Monday night, killing two people and injuring nearly 40 others.

A top Shiv Sena leader, Uday Thackery, called for improved law and order in the city. Mr. Thakeray said there have been five or six bomb attacks, and lower income people traveling in buses and trains have been the targets. He says city residents cannot tolerate this.

State authorities blame the attacks on a local group linked to the Lashkar-e-Taiba, an Islamic militant group waging a separatist insurgency in Indian Kashmir.

Meanwhile Maharashtra state authorities boosted security in the towns of Nashik and Trimbakeshwar, about 300 kilometers north of Bombay.

Tens of thousands of Hindu pilgrims have gathered in these twin temple towns for a Hindu festival called the "Kumbh Mela." Hindu priests inaugurated the religious event Wednesday with hymns and prayers.

The festival is held every three years at four different locations in India, where devotees believe a Hindu god spilled four drops of nectar. Pilgrims believe that immersion in rivers that run along these towns at the time of the Kumbh Mela washes away past sins. Besides the western towns of Nashik and Trimbakeshwar, the festival is also being held in a southern Indian town.

This week's bomb attack in Bombay has raised concerns that the Hindu festival maybe targeted by Muslim militants.