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India: Nationwide strike over economic reforms (VIDEO)

A nationwide strike against economic reforms in India closed schools, businesses and offices, as protesters blocked roads and trains.

India strikes fdi protests september 20 2012Enlarge
Samajwadi Party workers burning an effigy of Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh on the tracks as they stop a train in Allahabad on September 20, 2012. Opposition parties and trade unions called for shopkeepers, traders and laborers in India to block railway lines and close markets to protest against reforms. (STRDEL/AFP/Getty Images)

A nationwide strike in India forced many schools, businesses and government offices to close on Thursday, as demonstrators blocked roads and trains in protests against economic reforms, according to Reuters.

The strike was called by the government's main opposition, the Bharatiya Janata Party, and smaller parties from the left and right of the political spectrum to protest a price increase on diesel fuel and the government's decision last week to open India's economy to foreign direct investment from brands like Walmart and Tesco.

Ministers have said the reforms are key to reviving India's flagging economy, but shopkeepers fear the competition, said the BBC.

"Multinational companies will destroy the economic and social fabric of the country," said Praveen Khandelwal, the secretary-general of the Confederation of All India Traders, according to Agence France Presse. The organization claimed that 50 million businesses were participating in the protests, AFP reported.

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The BBC reported that railways in Uttar Pradesh and Bihar were blocked by workers, and Calcutta and Bangalore were shut down. The Associated Press noted that the strike was most effective in states ruled by opposition parties, like Gujarat, whereas cities like Mumbai and New Delhi saw little impact.

The Confederation of Indian Industry estimated that the country may have lost nearly $2.3 billion in production and trade revenue due to the strikes.

The AP noted that some government allies were among those who supported the protests, leaving the government coalition scrambling to solidify its support. Earlier this week, a key regional party, the Trinamool Congress, withdrew support from Prime Minister Manmohan Singh's government coalition.

Finance Minister P. Chidambaram criticized the strike and said the reforms would continue.

"We will continue working for the greater good of the economy," he said, according to AFP. "In a democracy you have (the) right to protest but it is ironic that the way you are protesting is bad for the economy."

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Watch below for footage from the protests, showing demonstrators chanting and marching, via AFP:

http://www.globalpost.com/dispatch/news/regions/asia-pacific/india/120920/india-nationwide-strike-over-economic-reforms