Strike by opposition parties paralyzes Nepal

Updated on May 12, 2004 01:08 PM IST

Tourists were left stranded while schools and shops were shut in Nepal because of a strike called by opposition political parties to pressurise the King.

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PTI | ByAssociated Press, Binaj Gurubacharya

Tourists were left stranded while schools and shops were shut throughout this Himalayan kingdom Tuesday because of a general strike called by opposition political parties as part of their campaign to pressure the king into restoring democracy.

The two-day strike starting Tuesday came a day after two senior opposition leaders spurned an invitation by King Gyanendra to meet for talks aimed at ending the political stalemate. In the capital, Katmandu, hundreds of opposition supporters demanded that businesses close _ demands that generally are heeded by proprietors for fear of vandalism. Universities and schools were also shut.

With no buses or domestic flights, thousands of passengers, including foreign visitors, were stranded.

International flights were departing on schedule from Nepal's only international airport in Katmandu. However, with no transportation available, some tourists had to walk the four kilometers (2.5 miles) between the capital's center and the airport, lugging their bags.

Authorities tightened security to prevent any violence at rallies scheduled later Tuesday, and hundreds of police were patrolling the main cities and highways of the country.

Nepal's five main political parties, which called the strike, said even government employees would be boycotting work in support of the strike.

Over the past month, the opposition has been stepping up a campaign to force the king to replace a monarchist government with one that would include members from all five parties. The parties also want a say in who should succeed Prime Minister Surya Bahadur Thapa, who resigned last week, and demand that the king give up executive powers he seized in 2002.

Tens of thousands of their supporters have taken to the streets to back their demands, and the demonstrations have often turned violent, leading to scores of injuries and arrests. Gyanendra on Monday summoned the heads of Nepal's two largest political parties _ Nepali Congress and United Marxist Leninist Communist Party of Nepal _ for talks to end the crisis. But they refused, saying any discussions must include representatives of all five parties.

Unrest has roiled Nepal since Gyanendra ascended the throne in June 2001, after his brother King Birendra was gunned down in a massacre at the royal palace. The shooting was apparently carried out by Birendra's son, the crown prince, who then took his own life. Gyanendra then assumed executive powers in 2002 and appointed a pro-monarchy government, after dissolving Parliament and firing then-Prime Minister Sher Bahadur Deuba, who he accused of incompetence and of failing to end a communist insurgency.

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