KATHMANDU: Tens of thousands of Maoist supporters demonstrated in the streets of Nepal’s capital Kathmandu on Saturday in a massive show of force to press the embattled government to quit.
Security was on high alert amid fears the demonstration could lead to fresh turmoil for the impoverished Himalayan nation, which is still recovering from a deadly civil war. Riot police were posted at all major city intersections and at least 15,000 security personnel had been deployed to avert violence, police spokesman Bigyan Raj Sharma said. Parts of the city were a sea of bright red flags waved by demonstrators who chanted: “Dissolve this puppet government and set up a national government.”
The Maoist party, which has the largest number of seats in parliament, is demanding the ruling coalition be replaced by a new, Maoist-led administration. It said it expected half a million people to throng the city’s streets. “The purpose of this demonstration is to pressure the government to resign and have a national government formed under our leadership,” Baburam Bhattarai, second in command of the Maoist party, said. The Nepal tabloid daily newspaper, Janadisha, said the demonstration heralded a “people’s revolution.”
“We will continue our protests until the government resigns and Prachanda is declared the new prime minister,” said one demonstrator who identified himself as Dhurba as he hoisted a Maoist flag bearing a hammer-andsickle emblem. A previous Maoist government fell in March 2009 after the president overruled its decision to sack the head of the army. Since then, Maoists have staged regular protests, though Saturday’s rally was expected to be the biggest. “This is a very dangerous moment.
The Maoists have mobilised their people in an unprecedented scale,” political commentator Prashant Jha told AFP. If their demands are ignored, Maoist leader Pushpa Kamal Dahal has said they will begin an indefinite nationwide strike from Sunday. Dahal, who also goes by his nom-de-guerre Prachanda meaning the “fierce one,” waged a decade-long insurgency against the monarchy in which 16,000 people died. Shops and businesses were closed and residents were stockpiling food in fear that supplies might run short in the event of a national shutdown.
“We hope the Maoists and the political leaders are able to reach some agreement by this evening so we don’t have to face a long strike,” said businessman Basant Karki. “I’m very worried by the present situation,” he said. As demonstrators were massing for the rally, the Maoists were meeting representatives of other major parties to try to break the political impasse.
Reports of Maoists taking part in military-style training and carrying weapons in the run-up to the rally stoked tensions in the capital. On Friday, Bhattarai promised that “thousands of volunteers have been trained to maintain discipline during the demonstration.” “There will be no violence,” he said. AFP
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