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Tags: Nepal | Maoist | strike | Nepal

Nepal Shut Down by Maoist Strike

Sunday, 02 May 2010 09:47 PM EDT

KATHMANDU — Maoist former rebels patrolled the streets of Nepal's capital Kathmandu on Sunday, enforcing a shutdown in a show of strength intended to pressure the government to step down.

The Maoist party, which has the largest number of seats in parliament, is demanding the replacement of the ruling coalition by a Maoist-led national administration.

All shops were closed and vehicles were kept off the roads by groups of opposition supporters carrying sticks and chanting revolutionary slogans.

"The whole country is shut down. No institutions or industries are operating and there is no traffic," senior police official Bigyan Raj Sharma told AFP.

More than 100,000 Maoist demonstrators rallied in Kathmandu on Saturday to protest against the current government, which is struggling to keep the country's peace process on track.

Maoist guerrillas fought a bloody civil war against the state for 10 years before a peace agreement was signed in 2006. The left-wing rebels went on to win elections in 2008 and held power for eight months.

"We are not asking to form the government on our own. We want a national unity government led by us," Maoist member of parliament Jhakku Subedi told AFP. "This is a peaceful strike to oust a puppet government."

In a televised address late Saturday, Prime Minister Madhav Kumar Nepal refused to resign and appealed for further talks, stressing that an "all-party consensus is the only alternative that will pave the way forward".

"Shutting down the nation is not the way to find a solution to this impasse," he said.

But Maoist leader Pushpa Kamal Dahal, who led the rebels during the decade of fighting in which at least 16,000 people were killed, told protesters that the strike would last until the government was forced from office.

Dahal, whose nom-de-guerre is Prachanda, was prime minister until May last year when his Maoist-led government fell after the president overruled its decision to sack the head of the army.

Saturday's demonstration was peaceful despite fears of clashes between the opposition's aggressive youth wing and the security forces. Police said the crowd totalled about 150,000 -- much lower than Maoist estimates of 600,000.

The Maoists said they would only allow ambulances, waste disposal vehicles and journalists onto the streets during the day, and residents could only leave their homes for shopping for two hours in the evening.

"This is a final and decisive fight against the government," said Chitran Bishwakarma, 25, a female Maoist party worker who wore a red bandana with a star on her forehead.

"We are chanting slogans for the government to quit and pave a way for a new constitution and peace. We are peaceful but if the government pushes us around and tries to intervene, we will not keep quiet."

The shutdown hit schools, markets, businesses and government offices across Nepal, although Kathmandu airport remained open. Many residents have been stockpiling food and supplies, fearing the stand-off could turn violent.

Riot police on Sunday did not confront the Maoist gangs enforcing the strike, and no clashes were reported.

The coalition government has faced months of protests from the Maoists protesting against demands that they disband the paramilitary structure of the Young Communist League and return seized property.

Lawmakers have until May 28 to complete a new constitution that analysts say is key to ensuring lasting peace between the Maoists and the state, although few expect the deadline to be met.

They must also reach an agreement on the future of nearly 20,000 former Maoist fighters languishing in UN-monitored camps around Nepal.

Copyright © 2010 AFP. All rights reserved.

© Copyright 2023 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

Sunday, 02 May 2010 09:47 PM
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