Nepal’s acting PM prays future quakes would hit US

By Sudeshna Sarkar, IANS,

Kathmandu : After foot-in-the-mouth remarks by US officials that stung Asia in the past, now it is the turn of Nepal’s acting prime minister to make a political gaffe, saying he prayed quakes would hit the US and other developed nations in future instead of Nepal.

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Home Minister Bijay Kumar Gachhedar, who is also a deputy prime minister in the new Maoist-led cabinet, made the politically incorrect statement in parliament Tuesday while answering lawmakers’ queries about the state’s efforts to provide relief to people hit by Sunday’s earthquake.

Gachhedar, who is currently Nepal’s acting prime minister as well, tried to defend the government by saying it was not possible for it to prevent earthquakes.

“We can’t stop quakes,” the chief of ethnic party Madhesi Janadhikar Forum (Democratic) said. “India couldn’t do it, China couldn’t do it. Then how can we? I pray to Pashupatinath that in future earthquakes hit the US and other developed nations (instead of Nepal).”

The gaffe comes at a time Nepal’s new Prime Minister Baburam Bhattarai is in New York to attend the 66th UN General Assembly and has been invited to a reception to be hosted by American President Barrack Obama.

The slip should be all the more embarrassing with the US currently training the Nepal Army to increase its disaster preparedness and risk mitigation.

The Nepal Army and US Army are taking part in a four-day Disaster Response Exercise and Exchange in Kathmandu that ends Wednesday.

The exercise is meant to focus on building multilateral inter-operability in disaster response between the US and Nepal and identify areas to increase preparation and risk mitigation.

It is part of Pacific Resilience, the US Army’s Pacific Humanitarian Assistance and Disaster Relief Initiative that seeks to bring the disaster response stakeholders from all echelons of government, military, and civilian agencies together at one venue to build working relationships for future relief endeavours.

The US and other developed nations like Britain and Australia are also members of the Nepal Risk Reduction Consortium established to help Nepal cope with disasters like earthquakes and floods.

Though Gachhedar’s party was instrumental in Bhattarai winning the prime ministerial election, the politician has already embarrassed the prime minister once by transferring the efficient home secretary, reportedly because of the latter’s crackdown on criminals close to Gachhedar.

(Sudeshna Sarkar can be contacted at [email protected])