Nepal resumes normalcy after crippling strike ends
Kathmandu, Nepal: Markets reopened for business, vehicles returned to the streets and some banks allowed customers to withdraw cash in Nepal on Saturday after the former communist rebels ended their debilitating general strike after six days.
In the capital, Katmandu, residents rushed to the local markets to buy fresh vegetables and fruit that trucks carried from outside the city. Buses took thousands of people stranded by the strike to their destinations while even some banks opened their doors to customers.
Security was still tight, and police in riot gear guarded the main areas of Katmandu. Maoists held a mass demonstration during the day, and another protest is planned Sunday outside the office complex for the prime minister and key government ministries.
Transportation, schools and businesses had been closed in Katmandu and other cities since May 2 during the strike aimed at pushing out the present coalition government. Opposition to the strike had been increasing, and police fired warning shots at a rally Friday to control clashes between Maoist supporters and opponents.
The top leaders of the Maoist party decided late Friday to end the strike since it was making life difficult, Maoist leader Pushpa Kamal Dahal told reporters.
"Considering the difficulty faced by the general people due to the strike, the party has decided to end the strike but will continue with other protests," Dahal said.
The decision followed growing protests against the Maoists and pressure from the government and Western diplomats. Some 20,000 people rallied in central Katmandu on Friday to pressure the Maoists. There were similar protests in other parts of the country.
The Maoists — who gave up their armed struggle in 2006 — traditionally back strike calls with the threat of violence against those who defy them, and their supporters have tried to forcibly shut shops that owners opened for business. Thousands of police in riot gear have guarded the streets to prevent violence.
At the local food market in Katmandu, vendors sold vegetables brought in Saturday morning from nearby farms.
"We haven't had any fresh vegetables for days now. We were getting tired of eating potatoes," said Rama Sharma, a woman shopping at the market.
The Maoists — who joined the political process in 2006 under a peace deal — won the country's most recent elections, but a dispute split their coalition, forcing their government to disband and ushering in the current leaders. The Maoists now want power back, but the government has refused to step aside.
The crisis had raised fears of renewed bloodshed after the insurgency claimed an estimated 13,000 lives over a decade.
The unrest comes as Nepal's Constituent Assembly, elected to draw up a new constitution, struggles to draft the charter before its term expires May 28.