Nepal shuts down as traders go on warpath
Mar 20, 2007 - 2:48:19 PM

Kathmandu, March 20 - The Kathmandu Valley shut down Tuesday and Nepal's outer districts were also impacted by the indefinite closure called by traders and entrepreneurs, who said their protest would continue till the government promised in writing that their lives and livelihoods would be protected.

Basantapur Square, a historic site at the heart of the capital where till last year opposition parties had been holding mass meetings against King Gyanendra, saw industrialists, hoteliers, bankers, lawyers and other prominent citizens hold an hour-long meeting to protest Maoist atrocities and the apathy shown towards their plight by the same parties, now in power.

'We want rule of law', 'Stop attacks on industries', 'Punish the guilty' -- screamed the posters held aloft by the protesters who took out a march in the main roads of the capital, asking all enterprises to shut down indefinitely.

Businesses, markets, hotels and restaurants, educational institutions and banks remained mostly closed in Kathmandu Valley while transport and domestic airline services were also affected.

The protest was also effective in the eastern districts and in some towns in the west.

The strike called by nearly 80 commercial organisations was joined Tuesday by two associations of private schools, prominent trade unions affiliated to the ruling parties and professional groups like the Nepal Medical Association that last year had thrown their weight behind the seven parties.

The strike, called since Monday afternoon, is causing Nepal a loss of billions of rupees daily and comes on the heels of a nearly two-month-long disruptive stir in the Terai plains in the south.

'This is not a political movement but a demand for peace and security,' Binod Chaudhuri, president of the Confederation of Nepalese Industries, said at the mass meet.

'When the seven parties and the Maoists have joined parliament and are on the eve of forming the government, we want to know how they are going to provide us peace and security.

'Our protest will continue till the government gives us a public commitment.'

Since the Maoists signed a peace agreement with the government last year and had the terrorist tag on their party removed, the business community has been reeling under extortion, threats and abductions with the government turning a blind eye to complaints.

However, the abduction of a hotelier and a press owner from Kathmandu last week snapped the fraying patience of the business community who tried to meet Prime Minister Girija Prasad Koirala Monday to complain about the increasing Maoist atrocities.

When the prime minister refused to meet the delegation, comprising the who's who of Nepal's business and industrial sector, the traders called an indefinite strike.

Reacting to the mounting criticism of the party, Maoist supremo Prachanda apologised for the abduction and roughing up of hotelier Hari Lal Shrestha, calling it a regrettable incident.

The rebel leader said he was returning from Dhangadi district in farwestern Nepal to the capital and was ready to hold talks with the business community.

However, Prachanda, whose party had in the past called similar strikes frequently and enforced them at gunpoint, said the traders were blowing a small incident out of proportion and creating disruptions at a time his party was holding talks to form an interim government and fix the date for the crucial elections.

Under pressure from the top leaders, the Maoist trade union, the Akhil Nepal Trade Union Federation -, which has become one of the most dreaded names in the nation due to mounting extortion and show of violence, Tuesday owed responsibility for the attack on Shrestha and said it had suspended two members for the incident.

Koirala called an emergency meeting of his cabinet to discuss the scenario. At the end of the meeting, the government asked the protesters to call off their strike and begin talks. However, there was no immediate response.

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