Maoists enforce strike, close Hindustan Unilever’s Nepal factory (Lead)

June 7th, 2009 - 5:27 pm ICT by IANS  

By Sudeshna Sarkar
Kathmandu, June 7 (IANS) Nepal’s former ruling party, the Maoists, Sunday shut down Indian cosmetic giant Hindustan Unilever Ltd’s factory while enforcing a general strike.

The Tamang Rastriya Mukti Morcha, an ethnic organisation of the former guerrilla party that called a general strike in 10 districts in Nepal Sunday, entered the subsidiary Unilever Nepal Ltd’s factory in Basmadi in Makwanpur district and enforced a closure.

However, Unilever Nepal’s management told IANS they expected the factory to resume production Monday.

The Tamang Rastriya Mukti Morcha has called the general strike to demand a Tamasaling autonomous state for the community to be carved out of 10 districts where they have a sizeable population, which includes central, northern and southern Nepal.

Starting production in Nepal in 1994 with detergent powders, Unilever Nepal now also produces toothpastes, soaps and hair and skincare products. About 150 workers are employed in the factory, one of the biggest in Nepal.

Rated as India’s most respected company by Business World magazine in 2007, Hindustan Unilever’s Nepal venture however has come under repeated attacks in the Himalayan nation.

One of the 47 Indian companies threatened with an indefinite closure by the Maoists when they were fighting their underground war, the Basmadi factory also faced obstruction early last year by local youths who demanded employment.

The Maoist general strike Sunday turned Banepa town in Kavre district, about 30 km east of Kathmandu, into a battle zone where over a dozen policemen were injured in clashes with protesters who went on the rampage and vandalised vehicles.

Enraged local residents also went on the warpath in retaliation, setting fire to the Maoist party office.

The district administration clamped indefinite curfew, which paralysed the Araniko highway that connects Nepal with Tibet. On Friday, another Maoist organisation had called a general strike in three districts in eastern Nepal.

The former ruling party, now sitting in opposition, has called disruptive protests nationwide to force interim parliament into admitting a debate on the action of President Ram Baran Yadav.

Last month, Yadav prevented the Maoists from sacking the chief of the army, Gen Rookmangud Katawal, which led to the collapse of the Maoist government.

Indian investors face hard days in Nepal with the start of new protests.

Besides the Maoists, a regional party that has its stronghold in the southern Terai plains where many Indian ventures like Dabur and ITC have their factories also announced a protest movement Sunday.

Upendra Yadav, chairman of the Madhesi Janadhikar Forum, the fourth largest party in Nepal, said his cadres would lead a torch rally in Kathmandu valley in the evening to protest against new Prime Minister Madhav Kumar Nepal appointing a party member deputy prime minister without his consent.

The Forum is asking for the ouster of deputy prime minister Bijay Kumar Gachhadar, who was sworn in last week. Gachhadar belongs to Yadav’s rival faction.

The Forum Sunday also petitioned the chairman of the constituent assembly, Subhas Nembang, to strip Gachhadar and two of his aides of their status as lawmakers.

Yadav said his party will now sit in opposition and start protests from the house and the streets. Known for its formidable ability to shut down the Terai, the Forum’s protests are feared to have a paralysing effect on the lowlands.

The fledgling government is ill-equipped to deal with the growing turbulence with even its biggest ally, the Nepali Congress, crossing swords with the prime minister on the allocation of ministries.

Barring two ministers, the 10-member cabinet headed by Nepal is yet to get portfolios due to dogged dissent among allies.

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