Monday, February 06, 2006

Unlucky Strike

News from Nepal
It has been only a few weeks since I left Nepal - December 13 to be exact - and I hope to return in a few months, so I worry about what's happening there - not to mention for the sake of my friends and acquaintances living and working in the Magical, sometimes Tragical Mountain Kingdom. Darn those Maoists, messing up my plans to trek to Everest Base Camp with my elder sister. Karen, if you are reading this - which you are supposed to be - don't worry, they just take money from tourists.

As you may have heard, Nepal is currently paralyzed by a strike, the result of Maoist demands that the entire population boycott the national elections, Or Else. Maoists and also the seven-party coalition claim the elections, sponsored by the Royal Government, are a ruse to restore a false democracy. The Maoists have threatened violence against anyone taking part in the elections, with the result that candidates have been murdered, disappeared or just withdrawn from the race. Thousands of Nepalis have fled across the border to India's Bihar state, as if they remain in Nepal, they may be forced to vote by federal security forces, and will experience Maoist reprisal if they do so.

DBT, a Nepali pen pal writes from Kathmandu:
Today, Sunday, is the first bandh (strike) day in Nepal. I was just in Durbar Marg, Kathmandu. Most shops there are open but I didn't see any shoppers. In New Road in the heart of the city every thing is closed. In Thamel there are very few shops and very few restaurants open. As usual, some shops, the supermarkets and more restaurants will open in the evening. There is no problems to get transportation. Lots of taxis in the streets. Some buses and mini buses are driving around the city. Lots of motorcycles and bicycles in the streets. I don't think the strike will last very long in Kathmandu. People are getting tired after one or two days and the they don't care whether there is a bandh or not.

However, on Monday I read that not only were the government forcing municipal employees to operate bus routes (risking their lives against the Maoist threats), but one taxi driver had been murdered, allegedly by Maoists, for defying the bandh. The rebels have also been known, in the past, to bomb such strike-defying vehicles.

All tourists are required to travel only in vehicles clearly marked TOURIST, for their own safety! If only the Nepalis had this option.

Sunday's Deccan Chronicle carried this story, among others:
Nepal grinds to a halt as Maoist strike takes effect
The UK Guardian is running
an ongoing Blog about the elections.
NewKerala reports that phone lines are to be cut during the election period (!).
Here's hoping that NEPAL will return to the meaning of its acronym (told to me by a young Nepali Muslim man): Never Ending Peace And Love.

(Besides, I still have luggage stored at my Kathmandu hotel!)

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