གཟའ་ལྷག་པ། ༢༠༢༤/༠༧/༡༧

Nepal's Civic Society Begins to Push Back against Maoist's Nationwide Strike

Maoists threw stones at peace activists following a large Kathmandu rally opposing the six-day old nationwide strike imposed by Nepal's former rebels. Riot police also fired their weapons into the air and used tear gas to break up scattered clashes in the capital. Local media report several dozen people were injured in resulting stampedes, but there were no fatalities.

It is now white and blue against the reds on the streets of Nepal's capital.

On the sixth day of an indefinite strike by the Maoists, the middle class took to the streets. Many were clad in white and wearing blue sticker badges reading "Wake up...Unite for Peace."

Peace marchers and the red-shirted Maoists taunted each other with riot police between the two sides.

"We want peace. We want peace. We want peace..."

Opposing the peace marchers were thousands of Maoists. They want Prime Minister Madhav Kumar Nepal to resign before they will agree to a political package meant to install a unity government. ahead of a May 28th deadline to write a new constitution and reintegrate former rebel fighters into the Army or society.

Before the spontaneous peace march through the streets, 20,000 people gathered in the historic Basantapur plaza for an assembly organized by nearly 50 leading professional organizations, representing a cross-secton of mainstream society.

One of the top civic voices in the country, Himal Southasian magazine publisher Kanak Mani Dixit, told VOA News the quickly mobilized gathering of citizens is a non-political, non-partisan movement in response to the crippling strike.

"There is no employment. There is no transport. There is no education. Eight million youth and children are out of school. So this is an attempt by citizens to say 'you guys sort out your problems, political problems, but don't hold the country hostage.' And in particular because it is the Maoist party that has called this general strike 'please call it off and continue with your talks.'"

The president of the Federation of Nepalese Chambers of Commerce and Industries, Kush Kumar Joshi, told the crowd civic leaders are giving all the political parties two more days to settle their differences. Otherwise, he says, the masses of Kathmandu will take to the streets.

Joshi says Nepal is a peaceful country, the land of the (Gautama) Buddha, but strikes and violence have prevailed. He told the crowd that the country is losing more than 30 million dollars every day due to the shutdown of commerce.

Maoist cadres, armed with bamboo sticks, have been patrolling the capital and other cities attempting to ensure shops remain shuttered until their demands are met.

An increasing number of merchants are defying the ban, but most places of business in the country remain closed.

The United States is the latest member of the diplomatic community to add its voice appealing for a political solution to the crisis. A statement from U.S. Assistant Secretary of State Robert Blake calls on the Maoists to "end or suspend their strike" and for the former rebels and the government "to exercise restraint and good judgment to prevent the outbreak of violence."