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Holi brings mixed blessings for Nepal

Tradition triumphed over politics in Nepal with ethnic dissidents pledging to suspend all disruption and strikes for three days to allow the nation celebrate Holi.

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Tradition triumphed over politics in the Himalayan kingdom of Nepal with ethnic dissidents pledging to suspend all disruption and strikes for three days to allow the nation celebrate Holi, the festival of colours.

"The government has still not created a conducive atmosphere for talks," said Upendra Yadav, chief of the Madhesi Janadhikar Forum, the group that has been spearheading a protest movement in the Terai plains in southern Nepal for greater representation, effectively cutting off all food and essential goods supplies from India to Nepal.

"However, we are withdrawing our protests for three days from Saturday for Holi." From Monday, the Forum started enforcing a chakka jam - transport strike - in the plains as well as a blockade of the trading points on the Indo-Nepal border.

The Birgunj customs office, the main trading point between India and Nepal has been losing crores of rupees daily since then with no cargo passing through. It also means a similar loss for the Indian customs office on the Indian side of the border.

However, the three-day respite will still not bring any joy to traders on both sides of the border and the two governments as Yadav said the blockade will continue.

Nepal celebrates Holi on Saturday, a day ahead of India.

After the three-day respite ends, more severe disruptions threaten the plains with the Forum declaring an indefinite closure of the Terai region.

"We want to begin dialogue with the government," Yadav said.

However, as a precondition, the Forum is demanding the resignation of Home Minister Krishna Prasad Sitaula for the 31 deaths caused so far during the Terai protests.

It is also demanding the formation of a probe panel to bring to book the culprits, including Maoist guerrillas.

In the capital, the Forum's ally, a federation of nearly 60 ethnic and indigenous communities, also pledged to call off its protest programmes till Monday.

The Nepal Adivasi Janajati Mahasangh, that successfully enforced seven major general strikes in Nepal last month, said it will not call any strike for three days for Holi.

Both the Forum and Mahasangh are demanding autonomous states for the communities they represent and greater representation in Parliament.

Though Prime Minister Girija Prasad Koirala, in an unprecedented move, made two addresses to the nation within a week asking the protesters to withdraw strikes and begin talks, his plea has gone ignored.