Police Turn Water Cannons on Striking Indian Businessmen

Police on Monday used water cannons to disperse thousands of striking shop owners protesting plans to seal and demolish illegally built structures in the Indian capital.

Nearly all stores in New Delhi's estimated 500 markets were closed on the first day of the three-day strike, and traffic on city streets was lighter than usual.

The violence came when protesters hurled stones and jostled with police officers, who blocked them from entering a building housing New Delhi's legislature.

Several protesters were arrested, including Praveen Khandelwal, the general secretary of the Confederation of All India Traders, which organized the strike, the Press Trust of India news agency reported. All were expected to be released later Monday without being charged.

The sealing and demolition of illegally built commercial buildings began in December after the New Delhi High Court ordered some 18,000 unauthorized structures torn down. In its ruling, the court said city authorities colluded with builders, allowing apartment and commercial buildings to be constructed in violation of city rules.

The federal government has filed a petition in the Supreme Court calling for the state government to halt the demolitions until a 15-year federal development plan for housing and businesses in the capital is approved.

Federal Urban Development Minister S. Jaipal Reddy said the government will try to expedite the plan's approval to help the traders. Four people died in clashes between police and traders in September.

A number of the demolitions have targeted the city's often overbuilt markets and adjoining residential neighborhoods, where buildings have been put up in the past with little regard for building codes or zoning rules. But residents and building owners are demanding that officials who permitted, or overlooked, illegal construction in the past be punished instead of having businesses torn down.