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In India, Strike by Opposition Parties Shuts Down Major Towns, Cities

In India, a nationwide strike called by opposition parties brought normal life to a standstill across many parts of the country.

Police stood guard as thousands of slogan-shouting protesters held marches in scores of towns and cities, and opposition activists squatted on rail tracks and roads to block traffic. Businesses, markets and schools shut down, flights were grounded and train services were suspended in many places.

The country's financial center, Mumbai, and the information technology hub of Bangalore were among the worst affected cities by the call for a one-day strike by major opposition parties.

The disruption was the most severe in states ruled by opposition parties such as West Bengal, Gujarat and Bihar. The capital Delhi, which is administered by the ruling Congress Party was relatively calm.

The nationwide shutdown represented a rare show of unity by the Hindu nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party and leftist parties, who are usually on the opposite sides of the political spectrum.

They had issued separate strike calls over a common demand: they want the Congress-led government to roll back a recent hike in fuel prices. Petrol and diesel prices increased after the government ended state subsidies. The new policy is expected to a lead to a further hike in the inflation rate, which is already over 10 percent.

Opposition leaders blame the rising living costs on the economic policies of the coalition government, known as the United Progressive Alliance or UPA.

A senior leader of the Bharatiya Janata Party, Arun Jaitley said the strike had popular support from people being hurt by rising prices. "This is a protest which is being widely supported by even by the average common man because he is really the target of the attack of UPA policies," he said.

D. Raja is a senior leader of the Communist Party of India. "Government should think of the hardship, suffering for the common people," he said.

The government however is unlikely to relent under the opposition pressure. It says there is "no question" of any rollback on its policy because ending fuel subsidies is essential to cut its budget deficit.

But opposition parties are hoping to gain popular support on an issue which has resonance with many people, and have threatened to ply more pressure on the government about its failure to check rising prices.