India-wide strike falls short

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An Indian labor union call for a nationwide industrial shutdown met with only partial success Tuesday in the face of government moves to keep the country running.

Special correspondent Carol Honsa reports that the Indian government, reacting strongly to what it saw as a political challenge to Prime Minister Indira Gandhi and her ruling Congress-I Party, invoked controversial preventive-detention provisions to arrest more than 6,000 union activists on the eve of the nationwide strike. It stationed paramilitary units in main industrial centers.

The strike was called by eight national trade unions affiliated with opposition political parties in protest against tough antistrike measures adopted by the Gandhi government last year. Their chief demand is repeal of government power to ban strikes in a sweeping variety of industries and services. (A national trade union affiliated with the Congress-I opposed the strike.)

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Around closing time Tuesday, the government said that factories, shops, transport, and other public services had functioned normally in most of the country. But that was hard to verify independently because of a shutdown of Indian wire service agencies by striking employees.

In the capital, the unusually light rush hour traffic and the skeleton crews manning open offices indicated that many employees sat out the workday at home. In the state of West Bengal, where the Marxist-led government supported the strike call, local government sources said there was an almost complete work stoppage.

The West Bengali city of Calcutta and its sprawling suburbs were reported virtually at a standstill. Police were reported to have opened fire during one clash between supporters and opponents of the strike. Initial reports said several people were killed and others injured in the clashes.

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