April 17, 2006

Nepali capital’s tourist quarter hit by unrest

By Gopal Sharma

KATHMANDU (Reuters) - Nepali police burst tear gas shells
and charged at youths with canes on Monday to break up a
protest in the tourist heartland of Kathmandu, which has been
largely immune to the anti-monarchy campaign sweeping the

It was the second day of unrest in the Thamel district, a
maze of alleys full of backpacker hotels, bars, restaurants,
shops and tour agencies. Witnesses said police burst tear gas
and then charged at the protesters, but no one was injured.

Protests were held elsewhere in the city as well, but they
were not as intense as in previous days.

Political parties opposed to King Gyanendra, who have
called for a mass rally on Thursday, however said there would
be no let-up.

"There will be a storm on Thursday but no lull today," said
Amrit Bohra, a leader of the Communist Party of Nepal (UML).
"Protests are taking place, scattered all over the city. They
have not fizzled out."

At least four people have been killed and hundreds wounded
in police action against protesters since political parties
launched a campaign on April 6 to remove King Gyanendra from

Tens of thousands of people have staged demonstrations
against the monarch, bringing the mountainous kingdom to a


The 12 days of a strike in support of the campaign have led
to a shortage of fuel and prices of food have shot up.

Hundreds of cars and motorcycles were queued up at gas
stations and pump owners had started impromptu rationing,
witnesses said.

"Petrol supply has completely stopped," said Harendra
Bahadur Shreshtha, the chief of the Consumers Forum, a private
group. "There is supply good for one month, but the government
is busy in suppressing the movement and is not paying any

Supplies of fuel are controlled by the government. Cars
were being given no more than 5 litres (1.3 U.S. gallons) of
petrol per day and motorcycles 3 litres, pump owners said.

Neelam Adhikary, a Kathmandu housewife, said prices of
essentials had surged.

"Onions used to sell at 20 rupees (about 30 U.S. cents) per
kilo, now they are 60 rupees," she said. "Salt was 11 rupees
for one kilo, now it is 45."

Political parties said the pain was temporary and asked
people to bear with the situation.

"We know the strike and the movement had caused problems to
ordinary people, but this is temporary and we should all bear
it," Prakash Sharan Mahat, a former minister and one of the
leaders of the pro-democracy campaign, told hundreds of
demonstrators gathered in a suburb of the capital on Monday.

On Sunday, the political parties called on people to stop
paying taxes or electricity or water bills until a democratic
government was formed. They have asked all transport, including
air services, to halt for the day, on Thursday.

King Gyanendra sacked the government and assumed full power
in February 2005, vowing to crush a decade old Maoist revolt in
which more than 13,000 people have died.

The king has offered to hold elections by April next year,
but activists say he is not to be trusted and should
immediately hand over power to an all-party government.