Maoist strike closes schools

2010-04-26 11:13

Katmandu - A strike called by former communist rebels shut down more than 8 000 private schools across this Himalayan nation over demands that school authorities reverse a decision to increase fees.

The student wing of the Communist Party of Nepal (Maoist), the former communist rebels, warned the schools to stay closed or face violence until the new fees are withdrawn.

Surya Krishna Shrestha of the Private and Boarding Schools of Nepal, which decides school fee rates for its member schools, said more than one million students were forced to stay at home on Monday.

Initial reports said a handful of schools that defied the strike call and opened were attacked, Shrestha said. Buses and buildings of these schools were vandalised, he said.

Private schools make up about 30% of the total schools in Nepal. Government-run schools remained open.

This academic year, private schools increased fees by an average of 25%. The Maoists' affiliated student union have insisted that the fee increase was unfair and that it took place without appropriate input from consumer groups.

Education Ministry spokesperson Lekhnath Poudel said the government was urging the two sides to resolve the differences through talks and reopen the schools. Poudel said the government was willing to mediate the dispute if invited to do so, but that it did not have the authority to intervene.

The Maoists gave up a decade-old armed revolt in 2006 to join a peace process. Since then they have confined their fighters in UN-monitored camps, joined mainstream politics and contested elections in 2008. They emerged as the largest political party and briefly led a coalition government before withdrawing to lead the opposition.