India braces for mass protests against price rises

NEW DELHI — India’s embattled government braced for nationwide protests against inflation and fuel price hikes, with organisers predicting a million-plus turnout.

Annual inflation accelerated to a higher-than-expected 9.06 percent in May, from 8.66 percent the previous month, heaping misery on hundreds of millions of India’s poor and piling pressure on the government.

Prime Minister Manmohan Singh has described inflation as a “serious” threat to India’s growth, and his cabinet has been racing to boost vegetable and other supplies to bring down food prices.

Thursday’s protests were being organised by the Indian National Trade Union Congress (INTUC), which is affiliated to Singh’s ruling Congress party but has joined forces with other unions to pressure the authorities.

“We are observing a protest day in front of government directorates, offices of commissioners in all states, in the form of sit-ins to protest the fuel price hike,” G. Sanjeeva Reddy, the INTUC president, told AFP.

“There will be 10 lakh (one million) people involved,” he predicted.

India’s central bank has raised its key interest rates 10 times in the past 16 months in an effort to curb inflation, but it has remained stubbornly high.

Sharp rises in food prices have been especially damaging for the Congress Party, for whom the rural poor comprise a key electoral constituency.

“The government must give some solutions,” Reddy said. “The working classes are suffering.”
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