Nepal traders call off strike, Maoists on rampage
Mar 22, 2007 - 11:22:56 AM
Kathmandu, March 22 - Nepal's aggrieved business community has agreed to call off its three-day strike but the capital's hotel industry remained fearful following an order by the Maoist guerrillas to shut down within seven days.
Two of the capital's five-star hotels, the Indian-owned Yak and Yeti and Hotel de l'Annapurna, in which Nepal's royal family has a sizeable stake, said they were visited by the trade union of the Maoists Wednesday and given a week to find alternate accommodation for guests and close within a week.
While some of the hotels in Thamel area, the hub of Western tourists here, said they were not taking any new guests, others said the situation had improved after the business strike was called off Wednesday night following talks between traders, Maoist leaders and Prime Minister Girija Prasad Koirala.
The government and the Maoists agreed to take stern action against people threatening businessmen.
Following the understanding, the police swung into action, arresting 16 Maoist cadres for trying to force hotels to close.
The trouble had started Monday when over 70 commercial and professional organisations in Nepal united to call an indefinite business strike to protest growing extortion, abductions and violence by Maoists.
The immediate provocation for the protest was the abduction of an hotelier and printing press owner from the capital. Hari Lal Shrestha, owner of Hotel Woodland in the upmarket Durbarmarg area, said the Maoists thrashed him for resisting their demand for Nepali Rs.2 million.
Shrestha was released after he signed a paper agreeing to pay the rebels Rs.10 million and allow them the free use of 10 rooms in his hotel.
The strike called by Nepal's business community drew the support of professional and human rights groups, showing the Maoists up in a bad light and putting them under pressure.
Rebel supremo Prachanda apologised for the incident, and the Maoists said they had suspended two cadres associated with the attack on Shrestha.
However, when the traders refused to be appeased and said they would continue with the strike till they received a firm commitment from the government and the guerrillas that there would be no further attacks on the business community, the Maoists decided to retaliate.
The All Nepal Trade Union Federation - called protests of its own in the capital Wednesday, demanding action against traders for misbehaving with employees and defaulting on bank loans.
Its cadres also began visiting the capital's hotels, asking them to shut down. The student wing of the Maoists declared a two-day strike from Thursday, alleging that protesting traders had vandalised its office.
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