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Wed 20 Aug 2008 02:06 PM

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One-day strike hits Indian states

Protests over sky-high inflation affects country's train and air services, banks largely unaffected.

A one-day strike called on Wednesday by communists to protest against inflation shut down three Indian states and partially hit train and air services, officials said.

A separate strike was also called by three bank unions representing about 600,000 workers but work at the nation's top banks was largely unaffected. The unions are protesting against consolidation of state-run banks.

Communist supporters squatted on railway tracks and stopped vehicles in three states they rule - West Bengal and Tripura in the east and northeast and Kerala in the south - where shops, schools, factories and businesses remained closed.

Four communist parties, until last month an ally of the national coalition, called the strike to protest record inflation, now running at 12.4 percent, the highest since the current index began in 1995.

Polls show rising prices could be the main issue for voters, eating into the support of Prime Minister Manmohan Singh's government ahead of general elections expected by May 2009.

Waving red flags embossed with the communist hammer and sickle symbol, hundreds of strikers marched through the streets of Kolkata, the West Bengal capital, shouting slogans against the central government and enforcing the strike.

Children played cricket on empty streets. Flights coming into West Bengal were cancelled and many trains were stranded.

The strike hurt operations at dozens of IT and outsourcing firms in Kolkata.

"We will work on Saturday to make up for the day's loss," said an official of Tata Consultancy Services on condition of anonymity.

The strike hit life in Tripura. Communist party workers forced shopkeepers to pull down their shutters. In Kerala, people complained the strike had stranded thousands of passengers.

Rail and road traffic were also affected in the eastern state of Orissa, where many banks and government offices were closed.

"All airlines have cancelled their flights on Wednesday," Kolkata airport director V.K. Monga told Reuters.

The strike is also being supported by leftist unions in the state-run telephone company and by airport workers.

"More than 80 percent of the workers are participating in the strike," VAN Namboodiri, a union leader at the telephone company, BSNL, told Reuters.

But the communist shutdown was largely ignored in other parts of India. (Reuters)

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