Maoists call indefinite closure over fuel price hike

By Sudeshna Sarkar, IANS

Kathmandu : Protests started snowballing in Nepal Friday over the government’s decision to hike fuel prices with the Maoists calling an indefinite closure and student groups beginning consultations for sustained opposition.

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The powerful student wing of the Maoists, the All Nepal National Independent Students’ Union (Revolutionary), called an indefinite shutdown in Parbat district in western Nepal from Friday after clashes between security forces and protesters.

Half a dozen demonstrators were injured in Parbat Thursday when security forces baton charged students who began burning tyres on main roads to halt traffic.

The Maoist students union said it would continue the closure till the security officials responsible tendered an apology.

Protests also erupted in other districts with demonstrators asking the government to roll back the hiked prices.

Nuwakot, Kavre, Banke, Baridya, Dang, Kailali, Kapilavastu, Syangja, Gorkha, Siraha and Tanahun districts saw protest marches even as Maoist groups stopped traffic in Kathmandu valley for an hour as a token protest.

Maoist students would continue the protests on Friday, when they would lay siege to the official residence of Prime Minister Girija Prasad Koirala, depositing empty cooking gas cylinders there to mock the government’s failure to improve supplies.

More protests are likely after eight major student groups announce a new strategy at the end of their joint meeting Friday.

Two powerful student groups associated with the ruling parties also joined the protests.

The student union of the second-largest party in the government, the Communist Party of Nepal-Unified Marxist Leninist, condemned the price hike and said it would oppose it.

Its peer, affiliated to the Nepal Workers and Peasants Party, which is supporting the government from outside, staged protests in Bhaktapur, where the party has a strong base.

Maoist spokesperson and former information and communications minister Krishna Bahadur Mahara distanced his party from the hike, saying it blamed the rampant corruption, mismanagement and pilferage in the state-owned Nepal Oil Corporation (NOC) for the rise in fuel prices.

Issuing a statement, the Maoist MP said corruption should be controlled first, commissions reduced and a national consensus taken before revising oil prices.

A growing power in the Terai plains in the south, the Madhesi Janadhikar Forum, has also flayed the hike.

A pressure group, Nepal Consumers Association, joined the chorus of protests, saying NOC should first cut down on commission to dealers, which at three percent was the highest in South Asia.

However, a defiant NOC chief Digambar Jha said prices could be increased further if world market prices continued to rise.

Due to the fear of the unrest the Koirala government had been baulking at increasing fuel prices despite whopping losses suffered by the NOC.

However, after failing to keep its pledge to hold an election in November and facing drastic reduction in oil supply by Indian Oil Corporation (IOC), the sole oil exporter to Nepal, it was finally forced to hike prices at midnight Wednesday.

From Thursday, the wholesale price of petrol has gone up by Nepali Rs.6 to cost Rs.73 per litre, diesel is Rs.3 dearer at Rs.55.86 per litre, and kerosene costs Rs.3 more at Rs.51 per litre.

Cooking gas costs Rs.1,100 per cylinder, a hike of Rs.200.

The hike will help NOC reduce its monthly losses to Rs.70 million from Rs.400 million.

The cash-strapped NOC owes Rs.5 billion to IOC, as well as Rs.6 billion to government organisations, banks and other entities, from whom it has been frantically borrowing each month to pay the IOC.