09/01/2004, 00.00
NEPAL - iraq
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Protesters attack mosque in Nepal and ask government to resign

Kathmandu (AsiaNews/Agencies) - Hundreds of protesters have attacked a mosque in the Nepalese capital to protest against the killing of 12 Nepalese hostages by Iraqi militants. "We want revenge," demonstrators shouted as they stormed the Jama mosque in Kathmandu.

The mosque, which is in the centre of the city, was empty when it was attacked. "The situation is tense but no one was injured," a police official said. Some protesters stoned the labour department building in Kathmandu.

A gruesome video posted on a Web site purported to show militants beheading a Nepalese worker and shooting 11 others in the first mass slaying of foreign hostages during the Iraqi insurgency. The militants said the 12 Nepalis had been killed because they "came from their country to fight the Muslims and to serve the Jews and the Christians...believing in Buddha as their God".

Protesters blame the government for not doing enough to secure the release of the hostages and demand that Foreign Minister Prakash Sharan Mahat resign over the killings. "How can the government remain so unconcerned when a dozen citizens are being held at gunpoint? The government should have sent negotiators to secure their freedom," said one protester, Prakash Thapa.

Nepalese authorities rejected the criticism and condemned the incident as "barbarian act of terrorism". "We strongly condemn the terrorist act and urge the international community to speak against this terrorist act," Mr Mahat said after a Cabinet meeting called to discuss the killings. The government, according to Foreign Minister, did everything possible for the release of the hostages. "We channeled our diplomatic missions in Qatar, Saudi Arabia and Pakistan and the government made several appeals through various channels," he explained. 

The kidnappers had demanded Nepal stop sending its citizens to work in Iraq, although the government already banned them from doing so because of safety concerns, and it also had rejected US requests to contribute troops. But many people from this impoverished Himalayan nation work abroad, and Nepalese are known to work for foreign contractors in Iraq. Thousands of Nepalis were duped and stranded at Mumbai for weeks last month on promises of being sent to Iraq by a number of Nepali and foreign  manpower agents. "What sins have I committed to deserve this?" Jit Bahadur Khadka said Tuesday of the killing of his 19-year-old son, Ramesh. "Ramesh had gone to Jordan saying he would send money in three months, and return home after two years. There was no contact after that, and now we have to hear this," the father added, speaking in their village south of Katmandu.

Mr Mahat said the government would take action against the employment contractors who recruited the men to do construction work. They had disappeared soon after entering Iraq from Jordan on August 19.

An indefinite curfew has been imposed in the Nepalese capital following this violent riots.

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