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Kathmandu valley to be shut down for polls

The Govt headed by King Gyanendra will virtually turn Kathmandu valley into a fortress to forestall attacks by the Maoists on Feb 8.

india Updated: Feb 07, 2006 12:31 IST

Determined to go ahead with Wednesday's elections, Nepal's government headed by King Gyanendra will virtually turn Kathmandu valley into a fortress to forestall attacks by the Maoists.

While Wednesday has been declared a holiday nationwide, the government decided to stop vehicles from plying in the valley on the day, fearing attacks by the Maoist guerrillas, who have warned they will not allow the polls to be held.

Traffic has been banned in Kathmandu city and the two other cities in the valley, Lalitpur and Bhaktapur, from 6 am to 8 pm on Wednesday barring security forces' vehicles, ambulances, fire brigades and those carrying permits issued by the district administration.

Bhaktapur is already under night curfew.

The government has ordered all mobile telephone services to be discontinued from Tuesday evening till further notice as well as the wireless phone services with limited mobility provided by Indian joint venture United Telecom Ltd.

Prepaid mobile telephone services were switched off January 19 to foil an opposition protest in the capital and have yet not resumed.

Despite mounting concern by the UN and opposition by school authorities, the government commandeered at least 144 schools in the valley to be used as polling booths on Wednesday.

Umesh Shrestha, president of Private and Boarding Schools' Organisation Nepal (PABSON), a private association, criticised the action, saying it would expose schools to attacks by the rebels.

He said at least 32 private schools hade been arbitrarily requisitioned by the government. "The school authorities were not even contacted. The government simply sent a letter saying the schools would be used as polling booths."

Many of them are boarding schools with residential students. By commandeering the schools, the government was putting their lives at risk, Shrestha said.

Discontent also simmered among government employees who have been ordered to cast their vote on Wednesday.

A senior bureaucrat publicly revolted on Tuesday, saying the government had no right to coerce employees.

Prasanna Kumar Koirala, undersecretary at the ministry of agriculture and cooperatives, said the chief secretary, a political appointee, was pressuring employees to vote, a measure unheard of even during the earlier autocratic regimes.

However, the government said it would hold Wednesday's elections at any cost.

"The government is ready to restore people's rights through elections," Shrish Shumsher Rana, government spokesman and information and communications said. "By next year, parliament would also be restored through fresh mandate."

Being held after almost eight years, Nepal's municipal elections have become a raging controversy.

First Published: Feb 07, 2006 12:31 IST