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Oil field protests halt drilling

Protesters besieged oil fields in India's northeastern Assam state on Monday...

Protesters besieged oil fields in India's northeastern Assam state on Monday, halting or slowing down drilling operations as they declared a four-day 100-hour blockade and kept workers from their jobs.

Assam produces just under 10 percent of India's estimated 32.5 million tons of crude oil each year, and a day's production has been lost, said Prasanta Borkakoty, spokesman for the government-owned Oil India Limited (OIL).

Drilling and production activities have been hit in several areas as protesters are trying to obstruct normal operations, he said.

The protesters accuse OIL of favoritism in filling jobs in the state where 2 million of the 24 million people are able to work but unemployed.

Police and paramilitary troops were called out to guard the fields and production facilities. There were no immediate reports of clashes with the protesters, although oil company vehicles were stoned in a few places.

The Local Unemployed Youths' Movement called for the 100-hour oil field blockade starting at 5 a.m. Monday (1330 GMT Sunday) after OIL announced the names of 300 youths it had selected for unskilled jobs at the company. Another youth group, the All Assam Tai Ahom Students' Union called for a three-day general strike in the area over the same issue.

The protesting groups said those selected for jobs were affluent, or related to leaders of the politically influential All Assam Students' Union, which had taken the lead in negotiating with OIL to hire unskilled youths.

The OIL company denied favoritism but said it would look into the charges.