Maoist Strike Shuts Down Nepal for Third Day

A giant flag carried by a Maoist demonstrator on the streets of Kathmandu (File)

A strike called by opposition Maoists shut down much of Nepal for a third day, as political parties struggle to reach a compromise to end the standoff with the government.

The Maoist party, which has the largest number of seats in parliament, is demanding the government led by Prime Minister Madhav Kumar Nepal step down to allow a Maoist-led coalition to take power.

Witnesses and officials said several shops in the capital, Kathmandu, were vandalized Tuesday by Maoists who said the stores had opened in defiance of the strike.

Local media report the price of basic food is rising rapidly as storekeepers risk attacks for selling.

The Maoists' general strike, which began Sunday, has closed businesses, schools and most offices. Vehicles were also being kept off the roads, although stranded tourists were allowed to begin leaving by bus on Tuesday.

Talks Monday between the Maoists and Nepal's two other major political parties (Nepali Congress and United Marxist Leninist) have failed to reach a breakthrough. The talks are expected to continue Tuesday.

The United Marxist Leninist Party of the prime minister and the Nepali Congress Party insist that unless the Maoists first halt the crippling strike, they will not support a change of government.

The Maoists won the last national elections in 2008 but quit the government a year later in a dispute about how to integrate former armed rebels into the army, an issue that remains a key sticking point in the political crisis.

Maoist rebels fought the government in a civil war that lasted 10 years before a peace agreement was signed in 2006.

Nepal faces a May 28 deadline to finalize the conditions of the peace accord, including drafting a new constitution.