Maoists end general strike in Kathmandu

KATHMANDU, Nepal, May 10 (UPI) -- Shoppers and businesses reclaimed the streets of Nepal's capital Kathmandu after Maoist anti-government demonstrators called off their general strike on the weekend.

The Maoists, some of whom are former guerrilla fighters, backed from their protests after thousands of angry residents created their own demonstrations demanding the Maoists end their crippling strike.


Patience ran out for many normally peaceful Kathmandu inhabitants as stocks of food, especially vegetables, ran low at home and markets were closed. Schools and banks were also shut and public transportation was at a standstill.

The Maoists began forcing businesses to close shop May 2 in an attempt to force the government of Prime Minister Madhav Kumar Nepal to resign and put in place a coalition administration headed by the Maoist Party.

But on May 7 a backlash of around 20,000 people, including professionals such as doctors, lawyers, business leaders and teachers, gathered in large groups in the city center demanding the Maoist leaders lift their siege.


Minor clashes between the Maoists and their opponents were stopped by police in riot gear and who fired warning shots above the crowds. No injuries were reported.

"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," Maoist leader and former Prime Minister Pushpa Kamal Dahal said.

The collapse of the strike is a momentary victory for the current prime minister, who went on live television saying strikes aren't the answer and urged the Maoists to work within parliament for change.

The Maoists continue to have around 40 percent of the more than 500 seats in parliament.

Dahal, who often goes by the name Prachanda, led the Maoists in their 10-year guerrilla war against the government in which an estimated 16,000 people were killed. He signed a peace deal in 2006 and entered a reconciliation process, including forming a legitimate political party.

The Maoists won the following election in 2008 and Prachanda led a coalition government as prime minister for eight months until May last year. But his coalition fell apart over a conflict with President Ram Baran Yadav regarding Prachanda's decision to sack the head of the Nepalese army, Rookmangud Katawal.


During the general strike, human rights activists in Nepal accused the Maoists of using children for political purposes. The agency Child Workers in Nepal said the tens of thousands of villagers who were bussed into Kathmandu for the strike included hundreds of children.

"Children have been very active in the protests and we are quite concerned about their security and health," Tarak Dhital, spokesman for Child Workers in Nepal, said.

Many of the children wore a Maoist red headband and patrolled the streets carrying sticks to warn city residents to adhere to the strike. There were no safety measures for the children in the event of violence and many children complained of being ill and weak, Dhital said.

Maoist leaders denied the reports. "The children simply followed their parents but are not directly participating in any of our activities," senior Maoist leader Lila Mani Pokhrel said.

During its guerrilla activities the Maoists often were accused of mass recruitment of children, especially students 12-16 years old. Apart from fighting, many allegedly were messengers, cooks and porters.

At the end of the war in 2006, an estimated 12,000 Maoist soldiers were below 18 years old, Human Rights Watch said. The U.N. Mission in Nepal noted that 9,000 child soldiers were in Maoist training camps.


Prachanda has often criticized India for what he sees as "naked interference" in Nepalese affairs and has demanded that the Nepal scrap the 1950 Peace and Friendship Treaty signed by the two countries. He also believes that India is trying to assimilate border areas that are disputed with Nepal.

The general strike came as Nepalese political leaders are struggling to meet a May 28 deadline to finish the drafting of a new constitution as part of the peace process that ended the civil war in 2006.

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