A sixth demonstrator dies as unrest continues and people start to go hungry
Kathmandu (AsiaNews) Unrest goes on unabated in the mountain kingdom as the pro-democracy strike enters its 14th day. A woman died after being injured by a tear gas canister that hit her in the face during a demonstration in Nepalgunj, 500 km east of the capital. She is the sixth casualty and second woman to die during the 14 day strike. Another 25 people in the crowd of 25,000 were injured, two very seriously. In the town of Pokhara, security forces have arrested some 250 teachers who joined an anti-King Gyanendra rally that violated the daytime curfew.
"Killing and arrests are a not good sign for peace and return to normalcy," said Yuvaraj Bhattarai, a social worker who spoke with AsiaNews and is worried about the problems strikes and demonstrations are creating for Nepalese.
He backed the pro-democracy movement but now opposes what he calls the "whimsical decision of the leaders of the seven party alliance to continue the nationwide strike indefinitely".
"Initially," he explained, "the strike was slated for four days. Four days were enough. However, they continued with protests throughout the country and forgot that an unlimited strike would deprive many people of their daily wages and force them to go on empty stomachs. This is totally irrational. This will gradually scare away the common masses from democracy".
Strikes have paralysed the transportation system, especially in the mountains. The net result has been price hikes; the cost of staples like rice, fruit and vegetables have doubled, in some cases tripled or quadrupled. But the worst effect has been the lack of kerosene and cooking gas. This means that many cannot cook and must suffer hunger.
"The situation is dangerous," said Subhash Kashyap, a local school teacher. "Grain prices have doubled or tripled. Salt is now 45 rupees per kilo when it ordinarily would cost 15. There is not gas for cooking. If strikes continue the masses will face hunger."
For Kashyap, "the country might seem to be moving towards democracy as thousands of people demonstrate against the monarchy singing pro-democracy songs, but the truth is that behind the slogans there are hundreds of thousands of poor wage earners who are going hungry. Protesters who take to the streets cannot understand how a poor day labourer can survive with rising food and fuel prices."
What is worst, many traders and business people are taking advantage of the situation, he charged. "Everyone knows," he said, "that these people are the sole contributors to the political parties' funds. They even grease the palms of the cronies of the royal government. But the poor people are the real sufferers. But who cares for the poor?"
Meanwhile the political impasse continues. Despite his offers to talk to political parties about returning to multiparty democracy through new, yet-to-be scheduled elections, King Gyanendra shows no intention that he is willing to relinquish power. The opposition, for its part, has called such an offer "ambiguous".