Opposition protesters clashed with police and set vehicles on fire in Nepal’s capital yesterday, as they enforced a nationwide general strike that crippled life throughout the country.
The alliance of 30 opposition parties is demanding the Himalayan nation’s new constitution draft be passed by a national consensus.
The ruling coalition has been attempting to get the draft approved through a vote in parliament after negotiations with the opposition failed.
Protesters and police clashed in Katmandu, the capital, on the first day of the three-day strike. Riot police fired tear gas shells, while the protesters retaliated by throwing stones. The demonstrators also set fire to a taxi and a motorcycle.
Taxi driver Niraj Vaidya said the protesters poured gasoline on his taxi and ignired it while he was still inside the vehicle. He was able to escape, but said he lost his taxi in the blaze.
General strikes are a common tactic for the opposition in Nepal, and it is not unusual for protesters to attack vehicles, shops and businesses that defy the calls to strike.
The nation cannot afford another confrontationPrakash Adhikari
Schools were closed across the country. Highways were deserted, with protesters allowing only emergency vehicles on the roads.
A constitution was supposed to have been written by the Constituent Assembly elected in 2008 after the end of a 10-year Maoist insurgency and the overthrow of the centuries-old monarchy. But the assembly was riven by infighting and never finished its work.
The current assembly, chosen in 2013, has faced the same problem. Politicians in Nepal have struggled for years to write a new national constitution.
One of the central disputes is whether the country should be divided into states along ethnic lines. The trigger for the current protests is a call by prime minister Sushil Koirala and his Nepali Congress Party for the country’s constituent assembly to adopt a constitution by a majority vote.
Mr Koirala and his allies control enough seats in the assembly to muster a two-thirds majority.
The Maoists say the constitution needs to represent a compromise agreed to by all sides.
A spokesman for Mr Koirala said the prime minister has urged the opposition to return to talks. “The nation cannot afford another confrontation,” said the spokesman, Prakash Adhikari.
A Maoist spokesman said: “We are ready for talks on a consensus-based constitution and ending the protests.”
Nepal’s government fought a decade-long civil war with Maoist rebels that ended in 2006 when the Maoists agreed to lay down their arms and join a political-reconciliation process.
The Unified Communist Party of Nepal won the most seats in a constituent assembly in 2008, but lost its hold on the government in polls in 2013 won by the Nepali Congress party and its allies.
The two sides have come close to agreements but bitterly disagree on details of a proposed federal structure for the government.