Sporadic violence marks India reforms strike

An Indian policeman looks on near a burning car during a trade union strike in Nodia on the outskirts of New Delhi on February 20, 2013
Image caption Workers set fire to several cars in a Delhi suburb

There has been sporadic violence in India at the beginning of a two-day strike called by the country's trade unions in protest against the government's economic reforms.

Angry workers set ablaze a fire truck and several cars in Noida, a suburb of the capital, Delhi.

And in Punjab state, a labour leader was killed in a clash, reports said.

Many state-run banks were closed and public transport disrupted in parts of the country.

The workers are protesting against reforms - which include plans to open the country's retail sector to global supermarket chains - which they describe as anti-labour.

Reports said a trade union leader was killed by some unknown men at a bus station in Punjab early on Wednesday.

The union leader was trying to stop the men from operating buses when he was stabbed to death, senior Communist leader Gurudas Dasgupta told the Press Trust of India news agency.

The capital, Delhi, and the western city of Mumbai were largely unaffected by the strike and financial markets were open.

Buses and suburban train services were running in both the cities. Some taxis were off the roads, but offices and schools were open.

There was a partial response to the strike in West Bengal, where unions are powerful and enjoy clout.

Private buses, taxis and auto-rickshaws kept off the roads and most banks were shut in the state.

But flight and train services were largely unaffected and attendance was normal in government offices, says the BBC's Amitabh Bhattashali in the capital, Calcutta.

The striking unions, who owe their allegiance to the Communists, the main opposition Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) and the Congress party, are also protesting against government moves to open insurance and aviation sectors to foreign investment and increase prices of subsidised fuel and cooking gas.

"The workers are being totally ignored and this is reflected in the government's anti-labour policies," Tapan Sen, general secretary of the Centre of Indian Trade Unions (CITU), told the AFP news agency.

A one-day strike against reforms last September shut down some cities and cost Asia's third-largest economy millions of dollars in lost business.

The government's "big bang" reforms are aimed at reviving a flagging economy, as well as avoiding the threat of a downgrade in India's credit rating.

PM Manmohan Singh says the reforms will "help strengthen our growth process and generate employment in these difficult times".

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