Capital city Kathmandu and other districts were hard-hit Sunday by a general strike called by Nepal’s former Maoist guerrillas after clashes between security forces and homeless squatters during a demolition drive killed at least six people and triggered arson and looting in farwestern Nepal.
Despite the morning chill, hundreds of Maoist supporters began marching at key thoroughfares of the capital Sunday, burning tyres to bring traffic to a standstill and shouting slogans against the violence in Kailali district, a Maoist stronghold.
Educational institutions and shops and markets remained closed in the capital while early reports from the districts outside Kathmandu valley said the highways remained deserted.
Demonstrators raised slogans demanding compensation for the families of five squatters killed during a violent clash with security forces in Dudhejhari forest in Kailali’s Baliya village as well as action against Home Minister Bhim Rawal and the policemen involved.
The government rushed thousands of police and armed police personnel to Kailali after the squatters, backed by Maoists, went on the warpath and vandalised dozens of vehicles and set fire to a forest ranger’s post.
Krishna Poudel, the chief district officer in Kailali, said the situation was under control Sunday and a meeting between the major parties, including the Maoists, had been called in the afternoon to defuse the tension.
The violence erupted Friday, when Nepal’s government was holding a cabinet meeting in the Everest region and promising to increase forest cover to 40 percent of the territory.
Police began a demolition drive in Dudhejhari, pulling down the shacks of squatters who had moved into the forest after being displaced either due to floods or landslides.
An estimated 15,000 people were living in nearly 4,000 shanties. The squatters belong to the Dalit community, who are among the most disadvantaged in Nepal and still considered untouchable by traditionalists though on paper Nepal has abolished untouchability.
Police said they began demolishing the shacks after all the major parties, including the Maoists, had approved of the decision.
But the drive was resisted by the squatters who fought back with bricks, bamboo poles and knives and axes, killing constable Padam ER. As security forces opened fire in retaliation, at least five more people were killed, including a woman, according to a press statement issued by 12 Maoist lawmakers from the region.
At least 50 people were injured, including three police personnel, one of whom had to be rushed to Lucknow in India for critical medical treatment.
In Kathmandu, the Maoist leadership reacted to the incident by announcing a shutdown nationwide Sunday.
The general strike comes ahead of a trade and transport strike called by the trade union of the Maoists Wednesday.