Friday, June 20, 2008

Maoists blast rail tracks over high prices

Fri Jun 20, 2008 1:35pm IST
By Nityananda Shukla

RANCHI, India (Reuters) - Maoist rebels blew up railway tracks and tried to enforce a strike in parts of India's east on Friday to protest against rising inflation, police said.

The day-long strike in Jharkhand, Chhattisgarh, Orissa and Bihar evoked some response in the countryside where the Maoists wield strong influence, but failed in urban areas.

The strike came on a day India's wholesale price index rose 11.05 percent in the 12 months to June 7, the highest rate in 13 years as the effects of a hike in fuel prices hit inflation.

Rising prices are a major headache for India's coalition government with less than a year to go to elections, although protests called by the main opposition and the government's communist allies over fuel price hikes have now tapered off.

Police in Jharkhand said Maoist rebels blew up portions of railway tracks, causing a goods train to derail and disrupting rail traffic.

Maoists distributed fliers asking villagers to support the strike, which shut down shops, hit traffic and disrupted mining operations in the mineral-rich region.

"The strike has affected life especially in the rural areas and local businessmen downed their shutters out of fear of being attacked," a police spokesman said from Bihar.

The Maoist rebels say they are fighting for the rights of poor peasants and landless labourers and routinely call strikes, attack government property and target local politicians.

Prime Minister Manmohan Singh has described the four-decade-old Maoist rebellion, which has killed thousands of people, as the biggest threat to the country's internal security.

Protests over rising fuel prices also continued in the neighbouring republic of Nepal, where student activists stoned several vehicles in the capital Kathmandu, disrupting rush-hour traffic for a third day in a row on Friday, police said.

Nepal raised petrol and diesel prices by about 25 percent last week, prompting transport operators to hike fares between 25 and 35 percent for taxis and buses.

(Additional reporting by Gopal Sharma)

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