Kathmandu valley paralysed by indefinite transport strike

June 21st, 2008 - 2:09 pm ICT by IANS  

By Sudeshna Sarkar
Kathmandu, June 21 (IANS) Hit by the Maoists pulling out of the government, Prime Minister Girija Prasad Koirala’s minority government in Nepal received a second blow Saturday with transporters calling an indefinite strike and students announcing shutdowns to protest against the new fares announced after a hike in fuel prices. The capital city of Kathmandu and its neighbouring Lalitpur and Bhaktapur cities were paralysed with public transport disappearing from the roads as the Federation of National Transport Entrepreneurs began an indefinite strike demanding higher fares.

The federation says that though the government increased fuel prices this month, making it the fifth hike in three years, it has not allowed transporters to revise fares accordingly.

This week, the government said fares should be hiked by 25 percent, a decision that is being opposed by the transporters, who want more.

Students have also jumped into the protests, demanding 50 percent concession instead of the 43 percent ordered by the government.

The All Nepal National Free Students’ Union, that is loyal to the third largest party, the Communist Party of Nepal-Unified Marxist Leninist, began street protests three days ago, blocking roads and disrupting the flow of traffic in the valley.

The union has announced a shutdown of Kathmandu valley June 25, to be followed by the closure of the entire country June 27 if the government doesn’t accept its demand.

The Koirala government is also facing a threat by petroleum dealers to start an indefinite strike if the supply of fuel from India does not improve soon.

In addition to the growing unrest, the beleaguered government was hit by a Maoist pullout late Friday night.

Seven Maoist ministers in the cabinet submitted their resignations collectively at a meeting of the seven ruling parties after the talks failed to break the prolonged deadlock over power-sharing.

In their resignation letter, the ministers said the government had flouted the mandate of the April election - that saw the Maoists emerge as the largest party - by refusing to pave the way for a Maoist-led new government.

One of the seven ministers, Dev Gurung, who held the local development portfolio, bitterly accused Koirala of blocking the negotiations.

The tussle has grown intense with Koirala demanding the post of first president of Nepal. But the Maoists have refused it, saying his advanced age and ill health made him unfit for the top job.

The seven parties are scheduled to have another go Saturday at reaching an understanding.

The deepening feud has cast a shadow on the fate of the newly elected constituent assembly, which was regarded as a key step in restoring peace and stability in Nepal.

Locked in the battle for power, the three major party leaders have failed to attend the assembly’s meetings, thereby raising doubts whether it would be able to accomplish its task of writing a new, pro-people constitution in two years.

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