Kathmandu: At least 45 people were hurt in violent protests as a general strike in Nepal’s southern lowlands continued Sunday, causing nationwide food and fuel shortages, police said.
A Maoist rebel looks on at a rally on the occasion of the 12th anniversary of the Maoist people’s war in Katmandu, Nepal
Shops, schools and government offices have been shut for five days in the country’s southern belt following a general strike called last week by the United Democratic Mahadhesi Front (UDMF) to push for more representation in federal politics.
“There are protest rallies every day and clashes every now and then,” said Mohan Kumar Pariyar, a police officer at Birgunj, 80 km south of the capital Kathmandu.
“The town is shut down. All the schools, businesses and shops are closed with no sight of any vehicles and the volume of people is very low on the streets.”
The ethnic minority Mahadhesis have been calling for a greater voice in the country since the monarchy was ended in 2006 and an interim parliament formed last year.
More than 200 people were killed in 2007 in the southern Terai belt bordering India in targeted killings, protests and clashes.
Home to around half of Nepal’s 27 million population, the Terai region is known as the country’s bread basket and is where most fuel imports come through from its sole supplier, India.
Protestors blamed the sporadic violence on police for using batons and firing teargas or shots into the air to break up demonstrations.
“We are trying our best to make the protests peaceful. But the state opens fire,” said Anil Kumar Jha, leader of the UDMF.
A three-member team was prepared to hold talks with the government to end the strike, Jha said.
“We are hopeful as well as sceptical. The prime minister confirmed to us last Friday that he will fulfil all the demands but went on to say the next day that he is not ready for all the demands,” said Jha.
Prime Minister Girija Prasad Koirala told a group of journalists in his hometown Biratnagar on Saturday that some of their demands could be met.
The protests come ahead of already twice delayed constituent assembly polls in April that will decide the political future of Nepal.