Nepal’s former Maoist guerrillas have called a nationwide general strike on Sunday and an indefinite shutdown in a remote western district after at least six people were killed following clashes between security forces and squatters.
The government rushed thousands of police and armed police personnel to Kailali district in western Nepal, a Maoist stronghold, after a drive by security forces on Friday to evict squatters from the Dudhejhari forest in Baliya village sparked violence with the homeless resisting the bid to evict them.
On Friday, when Nepal’s government was basking in the global limelight by holding a cabinet meeting in the Everest region and promising to increase the forest cover to 40 per cent of the territory, police swung into action in Dudhejhari forest, pulling down the shacks of landless squatters who had put up meagre dwellings of plastic sheets supported on poles and were demanding land and livelihood from the state.
An estimated 15,000 people were living in nearly 4,000 shanties. They belong to the Dalit community, who are among the most disadvantaged in Nepal.
Police said they began demolishing the shacks on Friday afternoon after all the major parties, including the Maoists, had approved of the decision.
However, the drive coincided with the Maoists’ Dalit organisations calling an anti-government protest and the policemen were showered with bricks, triggering a clash.
At least six people, including a policeman, died in the ensuing violence and nearly a dozen more were injured.
A statement issued by 12 Maoist legislators from the region said five squatters, including a woman, had been killed and over 50 injured.
Police said a constable, Padam Er, was also killed during the clashes.
The enraged squatters blocked part of the highway while Maoists began protests in various places demanding action against Home Minister Bhim Rawal and the policemen involved in the use of excessive force.
In Kathmandu, the Maoist leadership convened a press conference to announce they would enforce a shutdown nationwide on Sunday.
On Wednesday, the trade union of the Maoists has called a transport and trade strike, also countrywide, to press their demand for a debate on the role of President Ram Baran Yadav, who they say acted unconstitutionally by reinstating the chief of the army their government had sacked earlier this year.
Nepal’s apex rights body, the National Human Rights Commission, said it was concerned at the use of excessive force and sought an independent inquiry into the deaths.