Monday, December 21, 2009

Srruggle against Indian hegemony

Thousands of Maoist protesters in Nepal enforced the second day of their nationwide general strike on Monday, shouting anti-government slogans and paralyzing much of the country as businesses remained shuttered and vehicle traffic was almost nonexistent in the capital, Katmandu.

The quieter protests Monday contrasted with the violent clashes that erupted a day earlier between the police and demonstrators in Katmandu. On Sunday, the police arrested at least 70 people as officers used batons and tear gas to break up protesters, who were blocking roads and preventing Nepal’s prime minister from reaching his residence after returning from the international climate change talks in Copenhagen.

“The situation is quite normal compared to yesterday,” said Jaya Mukunda Khanal, spokesman for the Nepal Home Ministry. “People are in the streets. There is no transportation, but people can walk around.”

The general strike is the latest development in Nepal’s mounting political crisis. Three years after Maoist rebels agreed to end their decade-old armed revolt and participate in politics, the peace process is under a severe strain. In the streets of Katmandu on Monday, thousands of Maoists blocked intersections near ministerial buildings, shouting slogans and demanding the resignation of the current government.

Last year, the Maoists won enough seats in national elections to lead a coalition government and elect their leader, Pushpa Kamal Dahal, also known as Prachanda, as prime minister. But Prachanda resigned in May to protest a constitutional dispute with the president over the Nepalese military. Since then, the Maoists have staged demonstrations and even declared certain areas, including Katmandu, as symbolic “autonomous zones” beyond governmental authority.

The clash on Sunday occurred around 2:30 p.m. Bigyan Sharma, deputy inspector general of the Nepal police, said officers approached protesters, who were blocking a main road leading from the airport into the city. He said officers wanted to clear the road to allow the prime minister, Madhav Kumar Nepal, to reach his residence after returning from the talks in Copenhagen.

Officer Sharma said the protesters refused to move and then hurled stones at officers, badly injuring a police commander, who was taken to the hospital. Officer Sharma said the police then turned water cannons on the demonstrators while other officers used batons and tear gas. Ultimately, the authorities transported the prime minister by an alternate route, Officer Sharma said.

“The police were not too aggressive,” said Mr. Khanal, the home ministry spokesman. “The police had to clear the road.”

But Dinanath Sharma, a spokesman for the Maoists, disputed that account and accused the police of overzealousness. He said officers attacked peaceful protesters and that two Maoist parliamentarians were badly injured. “Our protest program is peaceful,” Mr. Sharma said. “It was not from our side. The police forcefully tried to suppress us.”

On Monday, a relative calm settled over Katmandu, witnesses said. Demonstrators were holding sit-down protests in groups of 100 or 200, according to the police, calling for the “people’s supremacy.”

The strike is schedule to end Tuesday. The police estimated that 4,000 protesters were on the streets of the capital, while other demonstrations were underway in other cities in Nepal.

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