At least 77 protesters arrested in Kathmandu, police say, during nationwide strike over government dissolving Parliament and seeking fresh polls.
At least 77 protesters, including a former minister, have been arrested in Nepal’s capital Kathmandu, police said, as a nationwide strike was staged over the government dissolving Parliament and seeking fresh polls amid a pandemic-induced economic crisis.
Tensions have been rising in the Himalayan nation since December 20 when Prime Minister Khadga Prasad Sharma Oli dismissed the legislature and accused members of his Communist Party of being uncooperative.
Supreme Court judges hearing more than a dozen petitions challenging the legality of Parliament’s dissolution are expected to give a verdict this month. If they rule in Oli’s favour, elections have been scheduled in two phases, on April 30 and May 10.
But demonstrations over the move have swelled since December, with protesters and police clashing.
Thursday’s nationwide general strike was called on behalf of a faction of the governing Communist Party (NCP) by former Maoist rebel leader Pushpa Kamal Dahal, who helped Oli come to power in 2018 but has since become a critic.
“The prime minister dissolved the parliament blocking our platform to protest against his unilateral decisions,” Bishnu Rijal, a leader of the Communist Party, told the AFP news agency.
“We are compelled to [take] to the street to protest against his unconstitutional move.”
Offices and business districts were shuttered across the country. The streets in the capital Kathmandu were deserted.
Police said the strikers caused a pile-up on Kathmandu’s roads by blocking vehicles and streets.
At least 77 protesters were arrested in the capital for obstruction and vandalism, said police spokesman Basanta Bahadur Kunwar.
By the strike organiser’s count, more than 100 people were arrested.
“A taxi was set on fire and three other vehicles were vandalised in Kathmandu by activists,” said police officer Ashok Singh.
The call for a strike came after Oli earlier this week appointed senior officials to constitutional bodies, including commissions on human rights and investigations into abuse of authority.
Opponents in the NCP accused Oil of bypassing a requirement for appointees to be approved by the parliament.
“Declaring the strike is our compulsion to oppose the prime minister’s unrestrained move to avoid the due process of law to make the appointments,” said Pampha Bhusal, a senior leader who along with her colleagues declared the strike.
After their alliance won the last national election in 2017, Oli’s communist UML party and a Maoist party of the former rebels merged to form the NCP, but the party has been plagued with infighting ever since.
In late December, the Chinese Communist Party sent senior officials to Kathmandu to see if they could mend ties between the factions in a party regarded as friendly to Beijing.
The crisis has plunged Nepal into fresh political uncertainty after years of short-lived governments.