Strike over fuel price hike paralyses Kathmandu valley

June 26th, 2008 - 12:23 pm ICT by IANS  

By Sudeshna Sarkar
Kathmandu, June 26 (IANS) Life in the Kathmandu valley came to a standstill Thursday as four minor parties jointly called for a shutdown to protest the hike in fuel prices. The Communist Party of Nepal-United led the shutdown along with with three more fringe parties, including an organisation of shanty dwellers that made its debut in the April election.

It is the second major disruption in the valley within a week. Earlier, transport owners had gone on a strike from Saturday to Tuesday, demanding a proportionate hike in fares after the government was compelled to increase fuel prices earlier this month to keep parity with rising global oil prices.

Schools remained closed despite appeals by education organisations to keep educational institutions outside the purview of shutdowns. The roads of the capital and its neighbouring cities of Lalitpur and Bhaktapur wore a deserted look while in some areas of the capital, demonstrators blocked roads and shouted anti-government slogans.

Protesters damaged over a dozen vehicles of those who ventured out in defiance of the closure while police arrested eight members of the CPN-United.

The fresh protests came even as the government of Prime Minister Girija Prasad Koirala succeeded in persuading leading student unions, affiliated to the major parties, to call off their protests over the fuel price rise. It also agreed to allow transporters to hike fares by 27 percent.

Thursday’s protesters demanded a rollback in oil prices, alleging that the nation is paying a high price for fuel due to inefficiency and corruption of the state-run Nepal Oil Corporation, which has a monopoly in importing petroleum products from India.

Though the government recently announced it would allow private operators to import fuel in a bid to normalise the dwindling supply of oil from India, the decision is yet to be implemented.

Besides hitting the public, Thursday’s strike has also affected tourists who were caught unaware.

Earlier this week, tourists had a harrowing time in Pokhara city, a popular destination for foreign visitors, after striking transporters stoned five tourist buses.

Besides protesting parties, student unions and transporters, the government is also under siege from fuel carriers, who have warned of an indefinite strike if they are not allowed to increase transportation rates.

If the threat is put into action, it will paralyse the nation, which is already reeling under an acute petroleum shortage.

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