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25 April 2024

Fuel runs low as Nepal ethnic strike bites

By Agencies


Thousands of cars and motorcycles queued up at the few petrol stations open in Nepal on Friday as a strike by an ethnic group demanding more autonomy in the southern plains disrupted supplies.


Most petrol stations displayed "no petrol" signs or locked up their gates while some that were open had long lines of vehicles waiting for several hours.


The indefinite strike which began on Wednesday has been called by three Madheshi organisations, saying they represent the dominant ethnic community living in the southern plains, to press for regional autonomy.


The strike has stopped all transport vehicles running from the Madhesh plains through which nearly 90 per cent of landlocked Nepal's imports, including essential goods like oil, pass.


At least 45 people were killed last year in violent protests organised by a Madheshi group.


The violence and protests have cast a shadow over the 2006 peace pact with the former Maoist rebels aimed at ending a decade-long war. They also threaten the twice delayed elections for a constituent assembly set for April 10 to map the nation's political future.


"We have not been able to bring any supply in the past two days and our stock has already exhausted," said Digambar Jha, chief of the state-run Nepal Oil Corporation, which has a monopoly over oil imports.


"Activists have destroyed several tankers carrying oil and carriers have refused to run fearing attacks," Jha said.


The fertile Madhesh region is impoverished Nepal's food bowl where nearly half of its 26 million people live.


The Madheshis want proportional representation in all state institutions including the army and police.


Consumer groups say people, already facing eight hours of daily power cuts, shortage of cooking gas and drinking water were hit hard by the strike.


"Supply of essential goods has already gone down and the prices of commodities like potatoes and onions have shot up by more than 12 per cent," Forum for Protection of the Consumer Rights official Jyoti Baniya said.


Many Nepalis were furious.


"What is the use of the government that cannot even give us oil," said Kumar Lama, a taxi driver who lined up outside a petrol station in the hill-ringed Kathmandu for more than eight hours and got ten litres of petrol.  (Reuters)