Nepal bus ‘blast’ kills seven ahead of polls


Kathmandu : As Maoist chief Prachanda was warning of violence and possible assassination of political leaders ahead of the April election, a blaze in a packed bus, reportedly caused by a blast, killed seven passengers in trouble-torn south Nepal and injured nearly two dozen more.

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Krishna Moktan, who along with his wife and two kids had Friday boarded the bus heading towards the frontier town of Birgunj from Janakpur in the Terai plains, said the vehicle stopped at one place where two women passengers got down.

“I was hanging near the door,” he said. “Suddenly, there was an explosion and a fire started.

“I was lucky to be near the door and jumped out. But my family, who were sitting inside, sustained injuries,” he added.

Initial reports said the bus was engulfed in fire at about 5 p.m. Friday while nearing a bridge on the Nijgarh-Pathaliya section of a highway in Bara district in the Terai plains.

There were over 100 passengers in the bus.

The seven victims were burnt to death in the inferno and the charred bodies had not been identified till Saturday morning.

At least 27 passengers were injured, five of them critically.

Though there was no immediate official statement on what had caused the carnage, a local daily Saturday said a little known militant outfit from the plains had claimed responsibility.

The Himalayan Times daily said a man, calling himself John, told the newspaper on telephone that the Terai Army had used nitrogen gas to cause the fire as the bus had flouted the three-day shutdown call given by the group.

The driver of the bus is absconding.

The disaster occurred even as Maoist supremo Prachanda told journalists in the capital Friday that he had heard hired killers were assembling to assassinate top political leaders and try to sabotage the April 10 election.

“The next two to three months are not going to be easy,” he said.

Nepal police made public the same day the identities of two men who, it said, had thrown a bomb at a mass meeting of the seven ruling parties Monday.

The two men were said to have been working for another little known militant outfit, the Nepal Defence Army.

After two false starts, Nepal is finally scheduled to hold a crucial constituent assembly election on April 10 where voters will for the first time choose between the country’s once omnipotent royal dynasty and a republic.

The Maoists, who caused the polls to be postponed in last November, say King Gyanendra’s supporters and Hindu fundamentalists from neighbouring India would try to foil the election.

Others, including members of the ruling parties, however fear the Maoists themselves would think up a fresh excuse to stop the polls where they might fare badly.