Stepping up pressure on the government to quit, opposition Maoists in Nepal launched an indefinite strike from Sunday throwing normal life across the Himalayan nation out of gear.
The strike follows failure of talks between Nepali Congress and CPN (UML) of the ruling coalition and UCPN (Maoist), the main opposition, and refusal of Prime Minister Madhav Kumar Nepal to step down.
Since morning Maoist supporters reached important locations in Kathmandu to impose the strike. They used songs and dance to urge the government to make way for a ‘national unity government’.
All business establishments remained closed and vehicular movement was also affected. Vehicles carrying journalists, human rights observers, patients, milk, water and tourists were allowed to ply.
Main roads were blocked by demonstrators carrying UCPN (M) flags and meetings addressed by leaders were held. Security personnel were posted at sensitive locations to prevent violence, but the demonstrations were peaceful.
"The masses will not leave Kathmandu till victory is achieved," said Dr Babu Ram Bhattarai, UCPN (M) vice-chairman told a public meeting held at New Baneshwor in Kathmandu.
Besides Kathmandu, life in other parts of the country also remained affected as highways were blocked by Maoist cadres and all shops, educational institutions and business establishments downed shutters.
The strike affected the ongoing higher secondary board examinations as well. Maoists have agreed to relax the strike for two hours daily beginning 6:00 pm to allow people to buy essentials.
In another development, leaders of ruling CPN (UML) met party president Jhalanath Khanal on Sunday and submitted a memorandum urging PM Madhav Kumar Nepal to resign to help find a way out of the present crisis.
“The Prime Minister appears bent on pushing the country towards civil war. We strongly demand that he resigns from his post and pave the way for consensus,” said Nepal’s party colleagues in the memorandum.
On Saturday, in an address to the nation, Nepal had refused to quit at this critical stage. The 22 parties in the ruling coalition including CPN (UML) had also advised him to continue in office.
Due to the strike countries like UK, Canada and Australia have made changes in travel advisories and asked their citizens to exercise high degree of caution while visiting Nepal.
The present crisis seems likely to prolong for a few days as Maoists have set the pre-condition of the PM’s resignation to call off the strike while the Prime Minister has refused to resign and urged Maoists to withdraw the strike.
The recent developments are also likely to prevent the country from adopting the new constitution within the May 28 deadline. It would create a constitutional crisis and may lead to emergency rule under the President.