Kathmandu: Nepal`s paralysing Maoist protests received a new twist on Friday when hundreds of apolitical protesters, mostly in white, demonstrated against the former rebel cadres dressed in red, giving the opposition party and the besieged government a 48-hour ultimatum to resolve the crisis.
Nearly 50 organisations banded under Nepal`s business and professional communities called a mass meeting at the heart of the capital on Friday to show the growing public anger at the Maoist strike that has kept the country paralysed since May 02 with the government unable to defuse the row.
The old royal palace at Kathmandu`s Basantpur, where the mansion of Nepal`s living goddess Kumari is located and where the kings of Nepal held court for diplomats and people before the abolition of monarchy in 2008, turned into a sea of people who waved white banners and clapped lustily calling for peace and an end to the discord.
"This mass meet has been called to convey the people`s command to the political parties," said Kush Kumar Joshi, chief of the Federation of Nepalese Chambers of Commerce and Industry that called the demonstration in collaboration with the Nepal Chamber of Commerce and Professionals` Alliance for Peace and Democracy, which played a key role during the pro-democracy protests against king Gyanendra`s Army-backed regime in 2006.
"The two crore 80 lakh people of Nepal can`t sit idly and watch. We are asking the government to reach an agreement with the Maoists in two days. We will not tolerate any more strikes and disruptions, that`s our demand."
There were reports that the Maoists, who have been losing their popularity due to the hardship inflicted by the strike, had tried to pressure the organisations into calling off the anti-strike rally.
However, people defied obstruction by Maoist patrols and the lack of transport to reach the rally venue from different parts of the capital. Joshi said protests were being held simultaneously nationwide.
Close to the rally venue, clashes broke out between the Maoists and the youth wing of the ruling communist party, the Youth Force. Security forces had to fire teargas shells and swing into action to bring the situation under control.
The Youth Force has been leading anti-Maoist protests, triggering clashes even as party chief Jhalanath Khanal denied deploying the youth wing to break up the Maoist protest.
"I came to the meeting because we want to send out the message to the parties that we elected them to parliament with a mandate," said Mani Sharma, a 32-year-old teacher who had walked for two hours to show solidarity. "Their task is to write a new Constitution and consolidate peace, not to indulge in infighting."
Nepal`s leading celebrities were also present at the rally, including singing sensation Buddhist nun Ani Choying Dolma and popular comedians Madan Krishna Shrestha and Hari Vansh Acharya. Buddhist nuns and monks, Christians, Muslims and Jains and Sikhs were also present.
"I have come to look for peace," said Madan Krishna Shrestha. "It has been pocketed by the politicians. I have come to remind them that they are the people`s servants and have to follow the orders given by their master, the people."
The crowds said they would intensify pressure on both the warring parties to end the strike that was causing indescribable hardship to a nation already wrecked by a decade of insurgency.
The protest has echos of the clashes in Thailand where anti-government `red shirts` have taken on government forces.