General strike paralyses Kathmandu

KATHMANDU: A general strike in Nepal has brought the country to a standstill today.

Kathmandu’s normally congested streets were virtually empty and its stores closed after the Nepali Congress (NC) political party orchestrated a nationwide bandh, or strike, to protest the death of a district president of the NC youth wing.

Shiva Poudel, died on Sunday from injuries sustained when he was beaten by a group of prison inmates on December 6. Poudel was being held in judicial custody for alleged involvement in the murder of a rival political party member.

Following his death the NC made a number of demands to the Government, including that Poudel be declared a martyr and that murder charges against him be withdrawn. In response to the Government’s refusal of these demands the NC called on all educational institutions, markets, shops and transportation to observe a strike from 6.00am until 4.00pm.

With a large police presence on the streets of Kathmandu, the NC called for the strikers to remain peaceful. Stick-wielding youths waving NC flags enforced the strike by burning tyres and stopping vehicles in the street. The police reported several vehicles in Kathmandu were vandalized by “NC cadres” for not observing the strike. Tourist, media, emergency services, diplomatic and humanitarian vehicles were not obstructed by the strikers.

The US embassy expressed concern with the Bandh, with ambassador Scott DeLisi suggesting on his Facebook page that the recently lifted travel warning for American citizens visiting Nepal and efforts to encourage American investment were put at risk by “this type of political violence”.

“The human and economic costs of bandhs are, unfortunately, significant for citizens, businesses, and even diplomatic missions – all of whom are affected,” DeLisi said.

“The city is at a standstill with peoples’ lives disrupted, access to medical care impeded, and productivity lost.”

Strikes are common in Nepal with the website Nepalbandh reporting 15 in December alone. Many Nepalis however expressed displeasure at a political party enforcing a strike.

“It is shameful to enforce a bandh,” Rinesh Sapkota said.

“Rather there are many other ways and alternatives to address the problem by a peaceful manner.”

The cost of today’s bandh is estimated to be 1.98 billion Nepali rupees, or around 31 million New Zealand dollars.

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