Nepal reels under two-day shutdown before crisis

In Nepal, schools remained closed; so did major markets and industries.

Last Updated: May 27, 2011, 14:14 PM IST

Kathmandu: As Nepal began hurtling towards a constitutional crisis with Parliament and the government facing dissolution from Saturday midnight, tension and uncertainty mounted in the nascent republic with different organisations announcing a two-day closure from Friday.

Life in the capital, despite the deployment of security forces, was hit with public vehicles disappearing after protesters set fire to at least five vehicles, including a bus belonging to the state transport and a van belonging to a prominent private television channel.

The Vishwa Hindu Mahasangh (VHM), a Hindu organisation that is seeking the restoration of Hinduism as the state religion, an end to cow slaughter and a ban on conversions, joined by seven more Hindu groups, including the Shiva Sena Nepal, called the general strike.

A fringe party, the Chure Bhavar Ekata Samaj, had also jumped onto the strike band wagon.

On Saturday, Nepal`s largest community, the warrior Chhetris, have called another general strike demanding job reservations for the community on the basis of population though it is one of the elite classes of Nepal.

"Anyone can announce a strike and it will be obeyed by people due to the fear psychosis," said former home minister Kamal Thapa, whose Rastriya Prajatarntra Party Nepal has begun public protests near Parliament, seeking fresh elections.

Schools remained closed; so did major markets and industries with public transport growing thin.

Since the last fortnight, Nepal has been shaken by a series of debilitating general strikes as its three major parties remain locked in a bitter struggle for power.

The protests began to grow after communist Prime Minister Jhala Nath Khanal admitted his government would not be able to promulgate a new Constitution by May 28 and sought another year to complete the task.

Khanal tried to amend the interim Constitution and give his government till May 28, 2012 to complete the task.

However, his plan boomeranged after the opposition parties said they would agree to an extension only under certain conditions.

The main opposition party, the Nepali Congress, says the Maoists have to hand over the arms of their guerrilla army to the government by Saturday and reach an agreement on how many of their fighters should be inducted in the army, followed by Khanal`s resignation.

The Nepali Congress, the second largest party in Parliament, says the Maoists had agreed privately that only about 5,000 of their People`s Liberation Army soldiers would find place in the army.

However, Maoist chief Pushpa Kamal Dahal Prachanda is refusing to disarm the PLA by Saturday and is demanding the induction of 10,000 combatants in the state Army.

Two marathon rounds of talks between the communists, Maoists and Nepali Congress this week failed to reach an agreement and a third round started in the capital Friday.

The beleaguered government is also facing battles in court and Parliament.

A lawyer has asked Supreme Court to declare parliament and the government null after Saturday midnight.

Khanal`s ploy for more time has also been stumped with the Nepali Congress obstructing Parliament for five days and refusing to allow the extension proposal to be admitted.

There is also growing public anger against the nearly 600 legislators who frittered away three years and over NRS 91 billion without even coming up with a preliminary draft of the new Constitution.

Non-political campaigners are now asking the MPs to either complete the Constitution by Saturday or return the salaries and perks they enjoyed for three years.