Nepal PM in emergency meetings as eight die in pre-poll violence

April 9th, 2008 - 1:25 pm ICT by admin  

By Sudeshna Sarkar
Kathmandu, April 9 (IANS) With only a day to go before a crucial election, Nepal’s Prime Minister Girija Prasad Koirala Wednesday began a series of emergency meetings as violence flared up again and eight people, including a contestant, were killed. The octogenarian premier, who will fly to his hometown Biratnagar to cast his vote Thursday, met Maoist supremo Prachanda early Wednesday.

Koirala also called a meeting with Communist Party of Nepal-Unified Marxist Leninist (UML) chief Madhav Kumar Nepal to discuss the latest violence and to urge for restraint.

The trouble erupted Tuesday evening.

The former Maoist guerrillas, who will fight an election after almost two decades, went on the warpath in midwestern Nepal’s Dang district shutting down markets and forcing authorities to impose curfew after seven of their cadres were killed in police firing following clashes with Koirala’s Nepali Congress (NC) party.

Two Maoists died on the spot and five more while receiving medical treatment after the violence between the former rebels and supporters of NC’s powerful nominee in the area, former home minister Khum Bahadur Khadka.

Maoists took under their control almost three-dozen people who had come to campaign for Khadka, accusing them of being muscle men brought to attack their own contestant.

As NC workers began retaliating, violent fights broke out, causing police to start firing.

While seven Maoist workers were killed, 12 were injured. The condition of three is said to be serious.

Curfew was imposed in the troubled area Tuesday night and lifted at 7 a.m. Wednesday.

Violence also erupted in remote Surkhet district in farwestern Nepal after a UML candidate was gunned down by unidentified assailants.

Rishi Prasad Sharma, fielded by the UML, the third largest party in parliament, was returning home from meetings when a group of people attacked him in a busy market area.

While Sharma’s driver received sword injuries, the contestant was shot as soon as he alighted from his car.

Enraged UML supporters went on the rampage after the killing, setting five vehicles, including ambulances, on fire and attacking the hospital.

An indefinite curfew has been clamped in the Mahendranagar town and its neighbouring areas in Surkhet, police said.

The killings come on the eve of a critical constituent assembly election Thursday, which was postponed twice last year due to violence.

Both the Maoists and the UML are alleging that Koirala’s party was behind Tuesday’s killings.

At his meeting with Koirala, Prachanda demanded stringent action against the culprits, saying there was mounting anger in his party over the rising toll. The Maoists say nearly three-dozen of their cadres have been killed since this year.

Despite the deployment of over 150,000 security personnel and aerial patrols, violence has been mounting on the eve of the historic poll, regarded as a key step for the restoration of peace and stability in Nepal.

The UN, that is assisting in the peace process by supervising the arms and combatants of the Maoists, issued a message from Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon, urging for free, fair and credible election and a poll environment in which voters could exercise their right without fear of violence, intimidation and manipulation.

Rights watchdog Human Rights Watch said the election campaign has been plagued by violence and intimidation by all the parties.

“The Nepali people have already endured years of violence, so it is up to the government, the parties, and the security forces to provide peaceful elections,” said Sophie Richardson, Asia advocacy director at Human Rights Watch. “Achieving this will be the first sign of hope for Nepal’s new constitution.”

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