Political parties ask rebels to call off blockade

The rebels have imposed a blockade to cut off main cities from the rest of the country in the campaign to topple the government.

india Updated: Mar 17, 2006 12:37 IST

Nepal's major political parties have pleaded with communist rebels to call off a crippling blockade of highways that stranded thousands of people and caused prices of fruits and vegetables to soar, a party official said on Friday.

The rebels imposed the blockade on Tuesday to cut off main cities and towns from the rest of the country in the campaign to topple the government, and plan to follow that up with a nationwide general strike beginning April 3.

"We are urging the Maoists to withdraw the blockade and strike," said Minendra Risal of the Nepali Congress Democratic The party is part of an alliance of seven major political parties that has been struggling to restore democracy in this Himalayan kingdom since King Gyanendra seized direct control over the government last year.

Senior alliance leaders travelled to New Delhi last week and are believed to be negotiating with the rebels. No details of the meetings have been given.

The alliance signed an understanding with the rebels last year to step up protests against the king.

But the rebel blockade has taken its toll on ordinary Nepalis.

Thousands of vehicles have stayed off the highways due to fears of rebel attacks while fruit and vegetable prices have doubled in Kathmandu because drivers have refused to travel the Prithvi highway -- the main route connecting the capital with the rest of the country.

On Friday, only a few dozen vehicles left the Prithvi highway checkpoint at Nagdhunga, just outside Kathmandu, despite government assurances of security and promises to compensate drivers whose vehicles were damaged by the guerrillas.

The rebels, who say they are inspired by Chinese revolutionary Mao Zedong, have fought for a decade to replace Nepal's constitutional monarchy with a communist regime. The insurgency has claimed nearly 13,000 lives.

Rebel violence has risen since the guerrillas pulled out of a unilateral ceasefire in January and resumed attacks on government positions and troops.

First Published: Mar 17, 2006 12:37 IST