Maoists shut down Nepal

2010-05-03 16:01

Kathmandu - Opposition Maoists shut down much of Nepal for a second day on Monday, as their indefinite strike piled further pressure on the country's strained peace process.

All shops, schools and offices were closed in Kathmandu and other towns as vehicles were kept off the roads by groups of opposition supporters carrying sticks and chanting revolutionary slogans.

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

Lawmakers have until May 28 to complete a new constitution that analysts say is crucial to ensuring lasting peace between the Maoists and the State - but few expect the deadline to be met.

Puppet government

Maoist guerrillas fought a bloody civil war against the State for 10 years before a peace agreement was signed in 2006, and the left-wing rebels then won elections in 2008 and held power for eight months.

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.

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

In a televised address at the weekend, Prime Minister Madhav Kumar Nepal refused to resign and appealed for talks to continue, 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, known often by his nom-de-guerre 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.

Aggressive youth wing

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.

The protests have so far been peaceful despite fears of clashes between the opposition's aggressive youth wing and the security forces.

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

"We are peaceful but if the government pushes us around and tries to intervene, we will not keep quiet."

Many residents have been stockpiling food and supplies fearing the stand-off could turn violent.

The coalition government has faced months of protests from the Maoists over demands that the left-wing former rebels disband the paramilitary structure of the Young Communist League and return seized property.

Lawmakers are also struggling to reach an agreement on integrating nearly 20 000 former Maoist fighters languishing in UN-monitored camps around Nepal.