Sacked workers in India beat to death the boss of the Italian company that had laid them off, police said on Sept. 23, in a killing the government described as a "warning for management." Scores of former employees at car parts maker Graziano Transmissioni attacked chief executive Lalit Kishore Chaudhary, 47, when a meeting on Monday to discuss a long-running labour dispute turned violent, police said. "Twenty-three people are still in hospital," superintendent of police Babu Ram said.

Police said the company sacked more than 100 workers three months ago but arranged the meeting to work out a possible reinstatement deal. "Only a few people were called inside. About 150 people were waiting outside when they heard someone from inside shout for help. They rushed in and the two sides clashed," Ram said.

Chaudhary, a father with one son, was hit on the head with either a stick or an iron rod and was declared dead on arrival at hospital, police said.

India's labor minister declined to criticize the attack, saying it "should serve as a warning for management. Workers should be dealt with with compassion," Oscar Fernandes told reporters in New Delhi, according to the Press Trust of India news agency. "The workers should not be pushed so hard that they resort to whatever happened."

Media reports said workers at Graziano Transmissioni were dismissed after they demanded pay rises and allegedly ransacked the firm's offices in the Delhi suburb of Greater Noida, where many multinational companies are based.

Graziano, in a statement from Rivoli in Italy, said it was appalled at the killing, adding that it believed some of those involved had no connection to the company. It said Chaudhary was killed by "serious head injuries caused by the intruders."

"We absolutely condemn the attack," Marcello Lamberto, head of Oerlikon Segment Drive Systems, which owns Graziano, said. "This is by no means a regular labor conflict but is truly criminal action. The whole of Oerlikon Group is close to the family of Mr Chaudhary in this terrible moment."

Police said they had detained 136 people over the incident.

Business contacts visiting the company from Italy narrowly escaped the violence, The Times of India reported. "I just locked my room's door from inside. And I prayed they would not break in. See, my hands are trembling even three hours later," Italian consultant Forettii Gatii told the paper.

A domestic industry body said the incident would hurt India's international business image. "Such a heinous act is bound to sully Indias image among overseas investors and deserves our utmost condemnation," the Federation of Indian Chambers of Commerce and Industry said in a statement.

The district of Greater Noida is also home to offices and factories of global firms such as Honda, LG Electronics and Moser Baer.

Copyright Agence France-Presse, 2008