Terai closure first challenge for Nepal's Maoist government
Apr 2, 2007 - 10:35:06 AM

Kathmandu, April 2 - Less than 24 hours after joining the government and beginning a new chapter in Nepal's history, Maoist guerrillas faced their first challenge Monday with ethnic protesters calling a closure in the Terai plains in the south.

The Madhesi Janadhikar Forum, a group that began an agitation from January demanding an autonomous state in the southern plains for the plains people, called a general strike in 22 districts in southern Nepal to protest against the government's 'repressive policy'.

'With the Maoists joining the government, we think the state will intensify its repressive measures,' Forum advisor Awadhesh Kumar Singh told IANS.

'They will try to stamp out the Madhes movement.'

Morning reports said the effect of the closure was felt in east, west and central Nepal with educational institutions remaining closed and public transport coming to a halt.

Siraha, Saptari, Sunsari and Prime Minister Girija Prasad Koirala's home district Morang were paralysed as well as Bara, Parsa and Kapilavastu, the home of Gautam Buddha.

For nearly two months, Forum supporters have blocked the main trading and entry points between India and Nepal, causing a revenue loss of millions of rupees for the cash-starved Nepal government and an acute fuel scarcity.

More than 60 people have died during the protests that recently have erupted in clashes between Forum supporters and Maoists.

Last month, 29 people died after a clash between the two sides snowballed, stunning the international community.

After the carnage in Gaur town, the Maoists had called for a ban on the Forum.

Forum leaders, who have gone virtually underground after the Gaur violence, have said they would reappear in Kathmandu in the afternoon to take part in a protest meet in which other ethnic groups are also to participate.

There is a security alert in the capital following the announcement since the last mass meet of the Forum in Gaur ended in a bloodbath.

However, the Maoists said they have not planned any confrontation.

'We want to resolve the issue through dialogue and understanding among the eight-party alliance,' newly appointed Maoist minister Matrika Prasad Yadav told IANS.

Yadav, who is also the Maoists' top leader from the Terai plains, said his party had first raised the demand for equal rights and autonomy for the plains people.

'We are pro-people,' Yadav said. 'We are going to raise in parliament the issue of recognising the plains languages as state languages as it is in India.'

However, Yadav said that control measures were also needed for 'liars and frauds'.

The Maoists allege that the Forum is directed by King Gyanendra, who wants to scuttle the June election that might abolish monarchy.

They also say Hindu extremists from India are also involved in the Terai violence.

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