Shopkeepers and traders in India went on a one-day strike Thursday as the main opposition party stepped up protests against plans to open the country's retail sector to foreign chains.
The right-wing Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) backed the shutdown, which closed commercial areas in the capital New Delhi and in other major cities but was only partially effective across the whole country.
Prime Minister Manmohan Singh's government has been faced with widespread fury over its decision last week to allow supermarket giants such as Wal-Mart to own 51-percent of large "multi-brand" stores.
The arrival of international supermarkets could transform India's retail sector and threaten the small, family-run stores where most people do their shopping.
"The government does not care about our interests. They are rolling out the red carpet for the multinationals," said Dayal Singh, Delhi secretary of the All-India Traders Union.
He said more than 10,000 traders in New Delhi joined the protest to demand the Congress-led government withdraw the reforms.
Most of the markets and many shops in New Delhi and Kolkata were shut, with several parts of Mumbai also closed for business.
"We do not want foreign investment in retail. Why are Wal-Mart coming to foreign shores to sell their goods. Where will we go?" said Kishore Kaharawal, general secretary of the Indian Small Business and Trade Owners Association.
"The Indian government needs to change its policies, otherwise foreign companies will rule here."
Premier Singh has said he will not back down on the reforms as they will lower prices, reduce huge wastage of perishable goods and help farmers.
Lawmakers have reduced parliament to a deadlock over the issue, with noisy protests forcing constant adjournments since the FDI (foreign direct investment) reforms were announced a week ago.
Business was again abandoned in both houses on Thursday, posing further problems for the government amid rising inflation, a series of graft scandals and accusations of policy drift ahead of key state elections next year.
US-based Wal-Mart, British giant Tesco and France's Carrefour all broadly welcomed the reforms, which come after years of lobbying, but any change for Indian shoppers may be years away.
The sector is worth an estimated $470 billion in annual sales, with high growth potential as India's 1.2 billion people move towards a more Western-style consumer economy.