Sunday, December 20, 2009

Maoist strike paralyses Nepal's capital

KATHMANDU — Nepal's opposition Maoists Sunday brought the capital Kathmandu to a standstill on the first day of a three-day nationwide general strike.

The Maoists have led a series of protests, preventing parliament from sitting and paralysing the capital since their government fell in May after the president overruled their decision to sack the head of the army.

Vehicles stayed off the roads Sunday and schools, businesses and factories remained shut as Maoist activists waved red flags and burned tyres, an AFP reporter at the scene said.

Large numbers of riot police stood guard as protesters gathered in the capital city shouting "down with the government."

Police officer Akash Shrestha told AFP security forces have been kept on "high alert" in order to avoid problems.

"Hundreds of police have been deployed to avert possible violence and so far the strike has remained peaceful," said the police officer.

Maoist spokesman Dinanath Sharma said the group had no alternative other than to call strikes to press their demands.

"All attempts to forge a consensus have so far been futile. The political parties running the government are not serious about addressing our demands," said Sharma.

The Maoists say the president's May move was unconstitutional and has compromised civilian supremacy over the military. They are calling for an apology and a parliamentary debate over the extent of his powers.

The latest strike comes amid growing concern about the slow progress of a peace process in the desperately poor country, where many people have seen little improvement in their lives since a civil war ended in 2006.

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