Protests erupt as two die in Nepal mosque blast

March 30th, 2008 - 10:46 am ICT by admin  

By Sudeshna Sarkar
Kathmandu, March 30 (IANS) Nepal’s minority Muslim community called a shutdown and began street protests Sunday as two devotees died in a bomb attack on mosque in eastern Nepal, raising fears of a sectarian violence with a critical election only 11 days away. Enraged Muslims Sunday shut down the market in Inaruwa, one of the main towns in Sunsari district, called a transport strike and a closure of the district, where a sizeable number of the community lives, to mourn the killing of two men who fell prey to a bomb attack while praying in a mosque in a neighbouring district.

Biratnagar town, the epicentre of the latest violence, remained paralysed under an indefinite curfew clamped since Saturday night to pre-empt a retaliatory backlash.

The attack occurred in Biratnagar, home of Nepal’s Prime Minister Girija Prasad Koirala, even as the premier was campaigning there for the April 10 election.

On Saturday late evening, three unidentified men rode past the Chhote Masjid in the Sarauchiya area of the town, located in Nepal’s turbulent Terai plains along the Indo-Nepal border, hurled four bombs in quick succession and fled without being intercepted.

About five dozen people were inside the mosque when three of the bombs went off, injuring at least four.

Two of the injured died while being taken to the nearby B.P. Koirala Institute of Health Sciences.

Feroz Khan and Parvez Iraqi Ansari died while praying while the condition of a third injured man, Muhammad Khurshid, is said to be critical.

The first enraged reactions started soon after the news of the blast spread.

Crowds of people spilled out on the streets, vandalised a bus and shut down the main market in the town.

Late at night, a statement reached the offices of the local newspapers, claiming responsibility for the blasts.

Signed by B.P. Mainali, who described himself as the Supreme Commander of the Nepal Defence Army (NDA), the statement said the underground outfit was behind the mosque attack.

The NDA, a shadowy organisation, had claimed last year that it was grooming an army of suicide soldiers to install a Hindu kingdom in Nepal.

The neighbouring districts have a sizeable Muslim population and on Sunday, Sunsari became the first to react.

Last year, after sectarian riots in Kapilavastu, another Terai district, the violence fled to nearby areas and was used as an excuse by the Maoists to oppose the election on the ground that forces loyal to ousted King Gyanendra were trying to influence the poll that would seal the king’s fate.

When Nepal was the world’s only Hindu kingdom, it enjoyed sectarian harmony.

However, since parliament declared the country a secular nation two years ago and the government went to the hands of a squabbling seven-party coalition, the security situation has worsened despite the end of the Maoist insurgency.

The April 10 election, regarded as critical for restoring peace and stability in the civil war-torn country and for the survival of the Koirala government, is still under uncertainty.

Four armed groups that have been behind a series of kidnappings, extortion and killings in the Terai have warned they would oppose the election if their cadres were not released before and the cases against them withdrawn.

The still growing violence has also prompted Maoist supremo Prachanda to call off all his campaigns in the outer districts and camp in the capital.

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