Wed, Apr 07, 2004 - Page 5 News List

Nepal grinds to a halt as Maoists' strike takes effect

AFP , KATHMANDU

Nepal shuddered to a halt yesterday as a three-day strike called by Maoist rebels as part of their campaign to overthrow the monarchy took effect, officials and witnesses said.

The strike comes amid massive daily protests by opposition groups near the royal palace in Kathmandu to pressure King Gyanendra to reverse his 2002 dismissal of the elected government.

Streets in the capital were near-deserted yesterday while schools, businesses, factories and stores remained closed.

Government offices were open but with no buses or private transport running, bureaucrats were forced to walk to work.

Officials and residents contacted in the major cities of Pokhara, Bhaktapur and Lalitpur reported similar scenes.

The strike also paralyzed Bhairahawa and Palpa districts and other tropical regions in the south, officials contacted by telephone told reporters.

Inter-city transport was also affected, with the Maoists imposing a road blockade in parts of western Nepal to thwart a tour of the area by the king.

Palace sources said the king, accompanied by Queen Komal, was determined to continue his program despite the strike and growing protests and was due to visit Bhairawaha tropical region in southwestern Nepal, including Lumbini, the birth place of Buddha, yesterday.

Police reported no immediate major incidents but said Maoist rebels had exploded bombs yesterday morning at the election commission office at Nepalgunj, in far-southwestern Nepal. No one was injured in the attack.

Rebels had also attacked police and bombed a police post and a government building in Saptari district, south of Kathmandu, but no casualties were reported.

Four bombs exploded in eastern Kathmandu overnight but little damage and no injuries were caused, police said.

The Maoists called the strike despite pleas by the five-party alliance which is driving the street protests to delay the protest because it would affect public transport bringing protesters from across Nepal to Ratna park, near Narayanhiti Pa-lace in Kathmandu, for the daily demonstrations.

Some 200 people have been hurt in clashes with police since the Ratna park protests began last Friday, according to human rights groups.

Organizers said further protests would be staged later yesterday at Ratna park as well as in the ancient city of Bhaktapur.

While the political groups want the king to restore the elected parliament, the Maoist rebels want an end to the monarchy.

The rebels have been fighting since 1996 to instal a communist republic in Nepal at a cost so far of some 9,500 lives.

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