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29 February 2024

Curfew in southern Nepal, capital running out of fuel

By Agencies


A general strike in ethnically tense southern Nepal entered its sixth day Monday, with violence worsening and fuel running out in the capital, officials said.

The unrest comes less than two months before the impoverished Himalayan nation is due to hold elections that will determine the country's political future and most likely end the world's last Hindu monarchy.

Nepalgunj town, which experienced deadly clashes over the weekend, remained under curfew Monday after one protester was killed and 59 police and protesters were injured in violent clashes, officials said.

"The acts of violence Sunday by protesters led to this curfew," said Narendra Raj Sharma, a senior local official from Nepalgunj, situated in southern Nepal's restive Terai lowlands bordering India.

At least 200 people died last year in protests and targeted killings in the Terai belt since the government and former rebel Maoists made peace in late 2006, and last week, the United Democratic Mahadhesi Front called an indefinite strike -- a move that has effectively blockaded the capital Kathmandu.

The Terai's Mahadhesi community have long complained of being excluded from Nepal's corridors of power, and say they were also excluded from the peace deal between the government and Maoists.

Home to around half of Nepal's 27 million population, the Terai region is known as the country's bread basket and is where most fuel imports come through from its sole supplier, India.

The strike has caused nationwide food and fuel shortages, with tanker drivers refusing to work due to the strike and ongoing violence.

Fuel supplies had already been limited for several months because of Nepal's non-payment of its fuel bill -- but the strike has seen even the black market begin to run dry.

An oil official in the capital said tankers of petrol, diesel and kerosene were stuck at Nepal's southern border with India, and that more security had been requested to ensure the safe passage of tanker drivers.

"We hope to bring 50 tankers of fuel from India and we will ask the administration to impose curfews so we can bring the fuel to Kathmandu," said Digambar Jha, managing director of the state-run Nepal Oil Corporation.

The clashes in Nepalgunj, 350 kilometres (218 miles) southeast of the capital, erupted after police called a curfew that was widely ignored by protesters.

But local officials were confident they could contain the unrest.

"The area of curfew is so big we believe there will not be any effort by the agitating protesters to defy it," Sharma said.

The United Nations, which is monitoring Nepal's peace process, has warned that the unrest threatens the crucial April 10 polls in which voters will select a body to rewrite the constitution and that will probably end the 239-year-old monarchy. (AFP)