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Maoist strike shuts down Nepal; gov`t urges talks

Maoist opposition supporters armed with bamboo sticks enforced a general strike that closed transportation, schools and markets across Nepal on Sunday to demand the prime minister`s resignation.



Katmandu: Maoist opposition supporters armed with bamboo sticks enforced a general strike that closed transportation, schools and markets across Nepal on Sunday to demand the prime minister`s resignation.

Thousands of supporters of the former communist rebels marched in the streets of the capital, Katmandu, waving sticks and the political party`s red flag. They gathered at main intersections, chanting anti-government slogans and sometimes singing and dancing.
Few vehicles were on the streets, and people were forced to walk to their destinations. There were scattered reports of vandalism against vehicles and shops that defied the strike, but no injuries were reported.

On Saturday, the Maoist staged a huge rally in Katmandu, but Prime Minister Madhav Kumar Nepal refused their demands he resign and be replaced by a Maoist-led government. He said the Himalayan country`s political crisis should be resolved through dialogue.

The standoff has raised fears of renewed violence in Nepal, where the Maoists ended their decade-old insurgency and joined a peace process in 2006. They won elections in 2008 and briefly led a coalition government, but a dispute over the army chief`s firing split the coalition. Tensions have risen again in recent months.

Home Ministry spokesman Jay Mukund Khanal said the general strike had shut down much of the country.

The international airport was open in Katmandu but most people had to walk there carrying their luggage. The government provided foreign tourists with free shuttle buses from the airport to their hotels.

The protesters said they would allow vehicles belonging to the press, tourists and diplomatic missions on the streets. Garbage trucks and tankers carrying water and milk were also not stopped.

A Maoist coordinating the protests in Katmandu said they were prepared to shut down the nation for days until their demands were met.

"We are protesting peacefully. But if the authorities try to provoke us in any ways we are ready and prepared to retaliate," said Chandra Bahadur Thapa.

Thousands of police in riot gear closely watched the marchers. The government said it was prepared to use force to stop violence if any occurred, but police reported none Sunday.

On Saturday, 125,000 Maoists had gathered in Katmandu for a mass rally against the government.

"It is not our pleasure but compulsion to impose the general strike to save the nation and the people," Maoist leader Pushpa Kamal Dahal told the crowd. "Revolution and major political changes in Nepal have come through street protests."

In a nationally televised speech, the current premier, Nepal, refused to step down.

"The government formed with the support of majority in parliament can be changed only through legal parliamentary process," Nepal said.

Karin Landgren, chief of U.N.`s peace mission in Nepal, said she met Maoists leaders to appeal for a peaceful resolution to the crisis. The U.S. Embassy in Katmandu issued a statement that appealed for the parties to exercise restraint and work toward consensus.

At least 13,000 people died during the decade-long Maoist rebellion that preceded the 2006 peace agreement. Since ending their insurgency, the Maoists have confined their fighters in U.N.-monitored camps.

Bureau Report

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