Nepal fuel shortage sparks protest over blockade

Tens of thousands of students held hands, waved banners and chanted slogans in Nepal’s capital yesterday to protest against a border blockade that has caused severe shortages of fuel and an increase in food prices in the Himalayan country.

Pupils take part in a protest on the outskirts of Kathmandu. Picture: AFP/Getty Images

The students lined the Ring Road which circles Kathmandu to demand an immediate lifting of the blockade.

“Stop the blockade. Education is our right. We will not bow down to India,” chanted the students in their bright coloured uniforms.

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Some had banners as they held hands in a human chain protest organised by the various groups representing schools in ­Kathmandu.

“We are here to protest the Indian blockade that has made it very difficult for us to attend our classes. We are here to say education is our right,” said Pramod Basnet, a 13-year-old student from a school in Kathmandu.

Schools have been forced to extend holidays and cut down on classes because of the fuel shortage.

For weeks, members of the Madhesi ethnic community protesting Nepal’s new constitution have blocked the main southern border point with India, preventing fuel and other essential items from entering the country.

India, which has close cultural ties with the Madhesis, has restricted fuel supplies to Nepal, which relies on its giant neighbour for most of its fuel.

Nepal accuses India of imposing an “undeclared blockade,” which India denies.

The Madhesis say the new constitution unfairly divides the Himalayan country into seven states with borders that cut through their ancestral homeland. They want the states to be larger and to be given more autonomy over local matters.

At least 50 people have been killed in the protests since August. There is no official count of the injured.

Nepalese authorities have been rationing gasoline for taxis and public buses, but there’s been no fuel for private cars.

Talks between the protesting groups and government have made little progress, but both sides have said they would continue talking.

Indian oil trucks stopped crossing into Nepal because of protests in the south, prompting authorities to try to limit the use of cars and save fuel.

Nepal is almost totally dependent on India for overland supplies following earthquakes in the spring that killed nearly 9,000 people and blocked crossings from China.

The deadly quake which hit in April this year had a magnitude of 7.8 and tremors were felt in nearby Pakistan, Bangladesh and India.

It struck central Nepal between capital city Kathmandu and the city of Pokhara

A total of 17 people also lost their lives on Mount Everest by avalanches triggered by the earthquake.