Thu, Mar 16, 2006 - Page 5 News List

Nepal quiet on second day of blockade


A week-long road blockade called by Nepal's Maoist rebels seeking to topple King Gyanendra's government entered its second day yesterday, affecting the transport of vital supplies.

The Maoists have ordered all vehicles off the roads heading to and from Kathmandu, district capitals and other towns in a bid to end Gyanendra's direct rule that began 13 months ago.

Fear of Maoist reprisals rather than physical blockades was keeping many drivers off the road. Vehicles have been torched and roads boobytrapped during previous rebel blockades.

Those defying the blockade this time round covered their license plates to prevent being tracked down.

The Maoists initially called the blockade for a week but some local newspapers reported yesterday that they might extend it.

Normally congested roads linking cities were virtually empty as soldiers patrolled highways in a bid to prevent rebel attacks on vehicles.

"So far we have had no reports of any violence," a police official said.

Army convoys accompanied the few private and public vehicles on the road. Inside the major cities and towns, residents reported life was normal except for rising food prices.

"This morning I went to buy vegetables and the prices had already started to go up," Kathmandu housewife Indira Shrestha said. "I'm really afraid prices will go through the roof if the blockade keeps up and there's a shortage of food."

Gyanendra justified his seizure of power by saying the move was needed to end the decade-old Maoist insurgency that has claimed over 12,500 lives.

But analysts say he is no closer to his goal of quelling the revolt and that the monarchy has become increasingly unpopular.

The strike has come amid a split in top Maoist ranks.

Late Tuesday, Maoist chief Prachanda or "the Fierce One" expelled two top rebel leaders, Ravindra Shrestha and Mani Thapa, accusing them of deviating from party policies and "exposing themselves as royal cronies."

"The party's central committee has decided to expel [them for] counter-revolutionary activities and acting as servants of the autocratic monarchy," Prachanda said in a statement.

His move came a day after local media reported the two Maoist leaders had accused Prachanda and another top leader, Baburam Bhattarai, of nepotism and favoritism.

Last year Prachanda and Bhattarai, had serious differences but patched them up.

The Maoists have called for an indefinite nationwide general strike starting April 3. Opposition parties have said they will organize anti-royal protests in Kathmandu starting April 8.

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