In Nepal, an indefinite general strike called by various agitating Madhesi and other ethnic groups from the southern plains has entered its seventh day. The government has imposed an indefinite curfew in some areas to restore order and has stepped up security around the main highways to allow the free flow of transport. The massive blockade has hampered fuel supplies across the country.
Nepal's Prime Minister Girija Prasad Koirala (centre)
Normal life in Nepal was paralysed for a seventh consecutive day. Most public buses and taxis stopped operating in the capital Kathmandu. Thousands of private cars and motorcycles had to line up at the few open petrol stations for several hours.
The strike, which was called by several ethnic Madhesi groups, has badly hampered highway traffic, leading to massive food and fuel shortages across the country.
The government has also had to tighten security in many parts of the Terai belt in southern Nepal to allow fuel trucks to pass through to the capital.
Yubaraj Ghimire, the editor of the Samay news magazine, explained exactly what the ethnic Madhesis are calling for: “22 out of 75 districts, which adjoin India, make up the Terai belt and many groups from the area are demanding a separate state under a federal Nepal and calling for that state to have a right to self determination.”
“To put pressure, they are blocking the entire roads and the life-line to Kathmandu, through which all essential materials such as fuel come -- from India.”
Almost half of Nepalese population
Nearly half of Nepal's 26 million people live in the southern plains. They are represented by several ethnic groups.
Some of them have even threatened to boycott the upcoming general elections in April unless their demands are met. Analysts say if the dispute goes on, it will clearly cast a shadow on the polls, which have already been delayed twice.
“Now you don’t see buses on the road, elections officials cannot move to their assigned areas, political parties cannot hold meetings, leaders cannot move. How can elections take place in this situation?,” Ghimire asked.
Call for dialogue
The Nepalese Prime Minister Girija Prasad Koirala says he is prepared to enter dialogue with the Madhesi groups. But he has also stressed that the he and the government can only discuss issues, which don’t go against the national interest.
Whereas the ethnic leaders say the government should create a conducive atmosphere for talks by releasing all protesters, who have been detained. They have also called on the government to stop using force against the protesters.
The United Nations Mission in Nepal has asked the strike organisers to remain peaceful and has appealed to the government not to use excessive force against protesters.
Clashes between protestors and the police at the weekend claimed one life and injured several people.