Students on warpath in Nepal over fuel price hikeBy IANS
Tuesday, December 7, 2010
KATHMANDU - For more than five months without a government and no signs yet of the caretaker government convening parliament, Nepal was shaken by renewed violence Tuesday as students went on the warpath against a fresh hike in fuel prices.
Student groups affiliated to the major parties clashed with riot police in various parts of the capital, and security forces charged at them with batons and burst tear smoke cannisters to bring the situation under control.
Enraged protesters targeted government vehicles and set at least one on fire as police arrested eight.
The demonstrations started after the caretaker government of Prime Minister Madhav Kumar Nepal announced a fuel price hike Monday.
The state-owned Nepal Oil Corporation (NOC), that has a monopoly in buying fuel from India across the border and selling it in Nepal, has been incurring a loss of billions of rupees for nearly a decade now due to the earlier state policy of subsidising petroleum products.
With oil prices rising in the international markets, the cash-strapped Nepal government has been trying to slash the subsidy and adjust domestic market prices.
Monday’s hike, the fifth in a year, makes kerosene, petrol and diesel dearer by NRS 3 per litre while cooking gas cylinders will now cost NRS 75 more.
Even after Monday’s hike, NOC officials say they will run a monthly loss of NRS 170 million.
However, the claim and hike are being contested by protesters who accuse NOC of corruption and pilferage while oil is being transported from India.
Eleven fringe parties joined the protests Tuesday, demanding a rollback of hike in prices.
The student protests come ahead of another round of protests threatened by the opposition Maoist party.
The powerful trade union of the formerly underground party is demanding a hike in the minimum pay of workers across all sectors that would see those getting a minimum pay of about NRS 4,500 now get NRS 10,000.
The first phase of the workers’ protests kicked off with a jumbo demonstration in southern Nepal Sunday.
Mahouts, who drive the over 100 elephants employed in hotels and wildlife resorts in southern Chitwan district, famed for its wildlife like the one-horned rhino and crocodiles, blocked the highway for two days with their pachyderms since Sunday, demanding the pay hike.
Shalikram Jamarkattel, Maoist MP and chief of the Maoist trade union, said in a press statement Tuesday that with inflation reaching double digits and the new budget failing to control price rise, minimum wages would have to be hiked to NRS 10,000 while daily wage earners should get NRS 400 per day.
The union has threatened to launch a protest movement if the demands are not met.
The trade union demand is regarded as part of the pressure tactics employed by the Maoists to force the prime minister into convening parliament.
The house was adjourned last month after 16 rounds of election failed to choose a new prime minister and the Maoists sought to prevent Finance Minister Surendra Pandey from tabling the budget.
The opposition party has now begun a signature campaign among MPs to force the government to convene parliament and either hold the election again or findg a new way to select a new premier.