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Kathmandu paralysed as student violence snowballs

By Sudeshna Sarkar, IANS

Kathmandu : Kathmandu city simmered with tension Wednesday as violence by students continued for the third day with Maoists enforcing a lightning traffic shutdown.

The rebels in this Himalayan region have warned of more reprisals from Thursday if their 46 cadres were not freed from police custody within 24 hours. They were arrested Tuesday when scuffles broke out between two rival student groups here.

The All Nepal Student Union (Revolutionary), affiliated to the Maoists, called a three-hour road blockade in the capital from 10 a.m. Wednesday, when their patrolling cadres ensured that no vehicles moved on Kathmandu’s streets.

The city looked under siege as fire and black smoke rose from burning tyres on the roads and rebel students took on security forces.

Security forces were reported to be resorting to baton-charges to try stop the demonstrations in the capital, demanding the release of 46 cadres arrested Tuesday.

The battle between students affiliated to the Maoists and Prime Minister Girija Prasad Koirala’s Nepali Congress party, which began Monday, has been snowballing with the government failing to bring the situation under control.

The feud erupted after a group of Maoists barged into the hostel of an engineering college in the capital Monday and assaulted the residents, who were mostly members of the Nepal Students’ Union (NSU), the student wing of the Nepali Congress.

In retaliation, the NSU Tuesday called a strike in educational institutions and began taking out protest rallies in the capital.

Their rival, the Maoist student union, said its office in the capital was vandalised by the protesters.

Passions ran high between the two traditional rivals with the Maoist union being joined by the youth wing of the rebels, the powerful Young Communist League (YCL).

Kathmandu turned into a battlefield Tuesday with scuffles breaking out between both sides, who blocked roads by burning tyres, fought with police and vandalised a police station.

Nearly two dozen people, including three policemen, were hurt in the violence. Police arrested 46 people, including members of YCL and the Maoist student union.

The arrests added to the wrath of the rebels. Lekhnath Neupane, leader of the rebel students’ union and newly nominated MP, warned that his party would be forced to take strong action if the detainees were not freed within 24 hours.

Both the warring sides are accusing the other of having instigated the violence.

Dang district in midwest Nepal, once a stronghold of the Maoists, was shut down by the NSU Wednesday to protest against the assault on their leaders by Maoists Tuesday.

The violence has especially affected nearly 117,000 students who Wednesday started taking the most important and toughest examination in their career, the school-leaving examination known as Nepal’s “iron gate” because of the low success rate.

In addition to the student violence, Bara district in southern Nepal, reeled under a two-day closure enforced from Wednesday by a group of former Maoists.

The Janatantrik Terai Mukti Morcha, headed by former top Maoist leader from the plains, Jay Krishna Goit, said it had called the two-day shutdown to protest against the killing of a member by the YCL.

The turbulence came even as the countdown to a crucial election began.

There are 98 days left for the constituent assembly election, which will write a new constitution for Nepal.

Though the new statute is expected to end discrimination and usher in social equality, the fragile law and order situation raises doubts as to whether the election can be held on Nov 22.

Meanwhile, the Maoists are asking for the abolition of monarchy before the polls, a demand that is likely to cause more turmoil in the days to come.