A year after king's exit, protests continue to rock Nepal
Apr 23, 2007 - 5:29:46 PM
Kathmandu, April 23 - A year after the ouster of King Gyanendra's authoritarian regime, peace continues to elude Nepal with fresh protests marring the government's victory celebrations that began Monday.
As the new eight-party government of Nepal unfolded an ambitious three-day celebration programme in the capital, ethnic protesters blocked the country's lifeline, the highway connecting Nepal with southern neighbour India and providing the major route for supplies.
Southeastern Nepal was closed down by the Chure Bhawar Pradesh Ekta Samaj, which called an indefinite strike from Monday to press their demand for an autonomous Chure state in the southeast for the hilly community of the area.
Though Prime Minister Girija Prasad Koirala's deputy, Peace and Reconstruction Minister Ram Chandra Poudel Sunday urged the protesters to call off the strike and begin negotiations, the organisation said it would keep up the disruption till its demand was met.
The group had threatened to go on the warpath last month, but withdrew its protest after the government said it was forming a ministerial team to open negotiations.
Though there was no untoward incident, transport came to a standstill and shops, educational institutions and offices remained closed in several districts along the highway.
The new protest comes after a three-day closure in the Terai plains ended Sunday, enforced by the Madhesi Janadhikar Forum, a group of plains people mostly of Indian origin.
The Forum is demanding an autonomous Madhes state for the diaspora in the Terai plains, a demand that has widened the traditional rift between people from the plains and hills.
There is fear that the new unrest would cause a scarcity of essential goods.
The Madhes and Chure protests come at a time Nepal is celebrating the anniversary of the ouster of King Gyanendra's 15-month government and the restoration of democracy.
The king, who had seized absolute power with the help of the army in 2005, was forced to step down after 19 days of continuous street protests against his government last April.
On April 24, 2006, he finally agreed during a televised address to restore parliament, dissolved in 2002, and hand over the reins to the seven-party opposition alliance.
King Gyanendra's exit largely restored peace in Nepal with the Maoist guerrillas, who had been waging a 10-year insurgency to overthrow the king, signing a peace pact.
A year later in April 2007, the rebels, once banned as terrorists, joined the government and pledged to hold elections by June.
However, the fresh unrest in the Terai, in which over 60 people have been killed since January, caused the Election Commission to declare it impossible to hold elections by June 20.
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