Contains selective news articles I select

Posts tagged ‘Buddha Land of Nepal’

Nepalese get 1st chance in 20 years to vote for local bodies

May 12, 2017

KATHMANDU, Nepal (AP) — Much has changed since Nepal last held local elections 20 years ago — the Himalayan country’s 240-year monarchy was abolished, federal democracy was introduced and political wrangling took center stage. Earthquakes ravaged the country. A Maoist insurgency left thousands dead. And widespread poverty ensured daily life for many remained a struggle if not a misery.

Through it all, Nepal’s 29 million citizens have had only government-appointed bureaucrats to look to for answers or help with settling local disputes. Many voters said they were excited for the chance this weekend to choose local representatives for the first time since 1997.

“We can finally get our true representatives back in our neighborhoods,” said 19-year-old university student Suman Sharma of Kathmandu. “The last time these elections were held, I wasn’t even born.” Nepal will hold the first of two rounds of voting on Sunday — with nearly 50,000 candidates vying for 13,556 positions on village and city councils covering nearly half the country.

For weeks, campaign posters have lined village roads. Political party flags flapped in the mountain breeze. And more than 40,000 police officers were fanning out to polling stations to keep the peace.

Candidates were going door to door to greet villagers with promises of building roads and schools, improving water sanitation facilities, providing electricity or even metro systems. “This election is very important because these local bodies bring the government to people’s front yard,” said Surya Prasad Sharma, spokesman for the Election Commission.

More importantly, analysts said the local balloting offered a signal that Nepal’s fractious democracy may be stabilizing. Two years ago, lawmakers passed a new constitution to replace the old system of monarchy, and to lay out the rules for provincial and parliamentary polls. The constitution was considered a major victory, following eight years of political bickering over its terms. But not everyone was happy, and its passage sparked months of protests by ethnic groups in the south that felt shortchanged by how the document divided the country’s districts.

“A lot of issues like the ethnic troubles could have been avoided if there had been continued representation in the local level,” said political analyst Dhruba Hari Adhikary. Janak Joshi, who works as a clerk in a government land registry office, agreed the lack of representative government at the local level had hurt society overall.

“For the past 20 years, government-appointed officials have been functioning in these positions. They didn’t represent the people or care about what was wrong or needed in city or neighborhood,” Joshi said. “Now we will finally get people who would at least listen and work for us.”

Many voters said they were eager for help in pressing the government to reconstruct hundreds of thousands of homes toppled in a devastating earthquake in 2015. So far, less than 4 percent have been rebuilt.

Others hoped local representatives would prioritize the need for justice following a decadelong Maoist insurgency that ended in 2006, leaving 17,000 dead. The government has yet to address more than 58,000 complaints of murder, abuse and or other human rights violations. Nor has it been able to reveal what happened to some 1,500 who disappeared during the fighting.

Some voters wondered if newly elected representatives could help revive local economies, sorely needed with some 25 percent of the population living in poverty. And some saw a chance to advance progressive policies for improving education or rights and opportunities for women.

In the Tokha suburb of Kathmandu, Nepali Congress party candidate Rajani Thapa led hundreds of flag-waving supporters this week on a campaign march while promising to fight for women’s empowerment and better days ahead.

“Many people still think women cannot do well in an elected office like men, but I want to prove that women can do the work much better,” she told The Associated Press on Wednesday. Nearby, in the capital, 21-year-old student Ranju Darshana was urging voters to pick him for city mayor.

“I am here with courage, I am here with determination,” Darshana said, dismissing criticism that she’s too young or inexperienced. Little trouble was expected at Sunday’s polls, though one small Maoist party has called a general strike, saying the country needs more political reform before it can be ready for such polls.

The second round of voting, scheduled for June 14, could see protests among ethnic groups unhappy with district boundaries in southern areas of the country, election officials said.

Advertisements

Nepal’s top judge suspended after impeachment motion filed

May 01, 2017

KATHMANDU, Nepal (AP) — Nepal’s first female Supreme Court chief justice was suspended after an impeachment motion was filed in Parliament accusing her of bias and interfering with executive powers. Sushila Karki, who held one of the highest positions ever held by a woman in Nepal, was suspended automatically after the motion signed by nearly half the members in Parliament was registered, Supreme Court spokesman Mahendra Nath Upadhaya said Monday.

Deputy Prime Minister Bimalendra Nidhi resigned in protest of the impeachment motion, an absence likely to cause problems because crucial municipal and district elections are planned in two weeks. Nidhi was also the home minister tasked with arranging security for the polls.

Nidhi handed in his resignation because he disagrees with the motion filed against the chief justice that would bring further distance between the legislature and judiciary, his press adviser Ramjee Dahal said.

There was no discussion on the issue within the party, Dahal said. Nidhi is from the Nepali Congress party, one of the two ruling parties whose members signed the motion. Karki was accused of interfering with executive powers and issuing biased decisions. The motion cited the court’s order overturning the government’s appointment of the police chief.

The motion, filed late Sunday, would have to first be debated in Parliament and then would require two-thirds of votes in the 601-seat Parliament for it to be approved. Karki was known for zero tolerance against corruption. She was appointed chief justice in April 2016 and was due to retire next month.

Nepal marks anniversary of quake that killed nearly 9,000

April 24, 2016

KATHMANDU, Nepal (AP) — People gathered Sunday at the remains of a historic tower in Nepal’s capital that collapsed in a devastating earthquake a year ago, as Nepalese held memorial services to mark the anniversary of a disaster that killed nearly 9,000 people and left millions homeless.

Minor protests were also held, with demonstrators angry at the slow rate of reconstruction in the wake of the magnitude-7.8 quake that ravaged vast areas of Nepal. Prime Minister Khadga Prasad Oli laid a wreath at the ruins of the Dharahara tower in the heart of Kathmandu. The iconic structure collapsed in the quake, killing 132 people. In all, 8,856 people died in the April 25, 2015, disaster.

Participating in the memorial ceremonies were people who lost loved ones in the quake, and others who simply came to pray for those killed. “I lost a friend who was working at the top of the tower on that day. I hope he and others are in a good place,” said Ram Shrestha, pointing at the remains of the Dharahara tower. He said that he had just stepped out a few minutes before the earthquake struck to go shopping.

Madhav Newpane, who runs a shop near the tower, witnessed its collapse. He returned on Sunday with a bouquet of flowers and candles. “There were many people killed here on that day. I will never be able to forget that day,” Newpane said.

About 100 protesters scuffled with riot police outside the prime minister’s office demonstrating against the slow reconstruction of the homes. More than 600,000 homes were destroyed and around 185,000 damaged in the quake.

“Government, where is reconstruction. Open the gates of the government,” the protesters chanted as they tried to force their way through a police barricade. According to the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies, an estimated 4 million people are still living in sub-standard temporary shelters in conditions that pose a threat to their health and well-being. Only 661 families have received the first installment of a 200,000-rupee ($1,868) government grant, getting 50,000 rupees ($467) so far.

Nepal has made almost no progress in rebuilding from the quake despite foreign donors pledging more than $4 billion in aid during a donor’s conference last year. The government, in disarray for nearly a decade, has not regrouped enough to be a strong force for reconstruction.

Out of the $4.1 billion pledged, Nepal has so far received just $1.28 billion. The delay in getting the money has been blamed on the government taking months to set up the National Reconstruction Authority, which was done only in December.

Finance Minister Bishnu Prasad Paudel said the delay was because it was necessary to conduct a detailed survey of the damaged houses before reconstruction could begin. “Nepal had signed a written commitment in black and white that there would not be any reconstruction without the detailed beneficiary survey during the donor’s meeting,” Paudel said Friday. “But until the detailed beneficiary survey was completed, there was no way we could go ahead with the actual reconstruction.”

Now that the work is completed in 11 of the 14 districts affected by the earthquake, work will proceed at full speed, Paudel said.

Trafficked Nepali, Bangladeshi women trapped in Syria

Murali Bhanjyang, Nepal (AFP)

March 13, 2016

Nepali villager Sunita Magar thought she was heading to a safe factory job in Kuwait, but only when she landed in Damascus did she realize “something had gone very wrong”.

Frequently beaten with a baton and given only one meal a day, Magar says she spent 13 months working as a maid for a Syrian household and pleading to be allowed to go home.

“I was just in shock, I couldn’t stop crying,” the single mother-of-two told AFP.

Magar is among scores of poor Nepali and Bangladeshi women who traveled to the Middle East on the promise of a good job, only to be trafficked into Syria, wracked by five years of civil war.

Nepal’s top diplomat in the region said nationals from the Philippines, Indonesia and other countries, which, like Nepal and Bangladesh, have large migrant labor populations, stopped working in Syria because of the dangers involved.

“Since then traffickers have been targeting Nepalis,” said Kaushal Kishor Ray, head of Nepal’s diplomatic mission based in Cairo.

“The numbers have gone up hugely in recent years, we estimate there must be around 500 Nepali women in Syria,” Ray told AFP.

In nearby Bangladesh, Shahinoor Begum lies in a Dhaka hospital bed recovering from her seven-month ordeal after being trafficked into Syria as a sex slave.

“I was sold to a Syrian man who tortured and raped me every day, sometimes along with his friends,” Begum, also a single mother-of-two, said.

“I begged for mercy, but they didn’t have any. Instead they used to beat me so badly that I broke my arms,” she told AFP.

Accompanied by labor agents, the 28-year-old and several other women left Bangladesh on the promise of working as maids in Jordan.

But they too were taken to Syria, where fighting between the regime and rebel forces has left more than 260,000 dead and displaced more than half the population.

Begum eventually developed kidney disease, prompting traffickers to contact her ageing mother to demand money for her safe return home.

Lieutenant Colonel Golam Sarwar said his team from Bangladesh’s elite Rapid Action Battalion are investigating her case and two others — although families of 43 other women have lodged similar complaints.

“Bangladesh is apparently a soft target for the traffickers,” Sarwar told AFP.

– ‘Always afraid’ –

Criminal networks target nationals from Nepal and Bangladesh in part because their governments have little diplomatic influence in the region and no embassy in Syria.

A Nepal government ban on migrant workers travelling to Syria has failed to stop the traffickers, an International Labor Organization (ILO) official said.

“Nepal’s government thinks a ban is the easiest solution, it basically allows them to wipe their hands of the issue,” said Bharati Pokharel, ILO national project coordinator in Kathmandu.

“India has much more diplomatic clout than Nepal or Bangladesh and traffickers are aware of this. They know Nepal is weak and that they will face no legal action for their activities,” Pokharel told AFP.

Illiterate, trusting and desperate to dig herself out of poverty, Magar didn’t hesitate when a labor broker approached her with a promise of a well-paid job in Kuwait. The 23-year-old says she didn’t realize she had been duped until the plane landed in Damascus.

“I was always exhausted, always hungry, always afraid,” Magar said of working 20 hours a day for no pay and sleeping on her employer’s penthouse balcony.

At night, she listened to Nepali songs to try to drown out occasional sounds of gunfire and bombs and chase away thoughts of suicide.

– Corrupt officials –

When a massive earthquake hit Nepal last April, Magar stepped up pleas to her employers, who had confiscated her passport, to return home.

They contacted the broker who then demanded payment from Magar’s family to ensure her release. Her mother then highlighted the case to local newspapers, kicking off a social media campaign. Expat Nepalis as far afield as Finland and Hong Kong raised $3,800 to pay off her employers.

Magar, who finally arrived in Kathmandu in August, counts herself among the lucky few to have escaped.

Rohit Kumar Neupane’s aunt was trafficked to Damascus last spring. She alerted her family via Facebook a few months later, prompting Neupane to repeatedly seek help from government officials without success.

A foreign ministry official said Neupane’s request had been forwarded to its overworked embassy in Cairo, which covers nine countries including Syria.

“Frankly, we are not in a position to manage these cases from Cairo…what we need is precautionary action to prevent them from coming to Syria in the first place,” said diplomat Ray.

But an apparent nexus between local labor brokers involved in trafficking and corrupt Nepali officials means they operate freely, according to experts.

“Even in the rare instance that a case is filed, it will just drag on with no possibility of resolution or a guilty verdict,” said Krishna Gurung, project coordinator at Kathmandu’s Pourakhi emergency shelter house for female migrant workers.

In her village of Murali Bhanjyang in central Nepal, Magar has little hope of seeing the traffickers brought to justice.

“I still have nightmares about that time…I start crying in my sleep,” she said.

“Sometimes it feels like none of this is real, like I am back on that balcony in Syria, dreaming of Nepal.”

Source: Space War.

Link: http://www.spacewar.com/reports/Trafficked_Nepali_Bangladeshi_women_trapped_in_Syria_999.html.

Nepal Maoists mark 20 years since start of civil war

Kathmandu (AFP)

Feb 13, 2016

Nepal’s former Maoist rebels paid tribute to fallen comrades Saturday in a ceremony marking 20 years since the start of an insurgency that transformed the Himalayan nation from a Hindu monarchy to a secular republic.

On 13 February, 1996, Maoist guerrillas attacked a police post in western Nepal’s Rolpa district, launching a decade-long civil war that eventually claimed some 16,000 lives and left hundreds of people missing.

Hundreds of Maoist cadres gathered at the party’s office in Kathmandu, waving red flags as senior leaders placed garlands on the “martyr’s pillar” — a monument built to honour fallen and missing combatants.

The rebels laid down arms in 2006 before entering politics and eventually helping to draft the country’s new national constitution.

Introduced in September, the charter established Nepal as a secular federal republic, reflecting Maoist ideology.

“The constitution is the product of our war and we… take ownership of the new constitution,” Maoist chief Pushpa Kamal Dahal, better known by his nom-de-guerre Prachanda, told cheering cadres in Kathmandu.

But for many ordinary Nepalis, who voted for the party in Nepal’s first constituent assembly elections held in 2008, the Maoists failed to deliver on their pledge of bringing equality and progress to the deeply feudal country.

“Many people lost their lives, many went missing or became disabled so things would change in this country,” Rina Tamang, a shopkeeper in Kathmandu, told AFP.

“Now we have a new constitution but we are still waiting for the change the Maoists promised us. Personally, I have no hope left anymore,” the 39-year-old said.

After sweeping to victory in the 2008 polls, the former rebels soon came under fire for abandoning revolutionary ideals and developing a taste for luxury.

They alienated their voter base and crashed out in Nepal’s second constituent assembly elections in 2013, finishing in third place.

“A few leaders compromised on their promises, a few betrayed the revolution for lucrative positions in government… all this needs to be rectified to bring real change,” said former guerrilla, Laxmi Prasad Chaulagain.

The constitution, the first drawn up by elected representatives, was meant to bolster Nepal’s transformation into a peaceful democratic republic after decades of political instability.

But it has instead sparked violence, with more than 50 people killed in clashes between police and demonstrators from Nepal’s Madhesi ethnic minority, who say it leaves them politically marginalized.

Ongoing discussions between the government and protesting parties have failed to yield an agreement.

Source: Space War.

Link: http://www.spacewar.com/reports/Nepal_Maoists_mark_20_years_since_start_of_civil_war_999.html.

With lives at risk, Nepal struggles to escape dysfunction

December 05, 2015

KATHMANDU, Nepal (AP) — Shiva Parwar has been camping on the pavement for five days, waiting in line for cooking gas. There are 521 gas cylinders ahead of his, and not even the dealer knows when more fuel will arrive, thanks to a two-month-long border blockade that shows no sign of ending.

“I sent my wife and child back to our village home because we don’t have the gas to cook,” said Parwar, whose roadside candy stall is shuttered while he waits. “I have been eating in restaurants with borrowed money but that too has run out. I have no option but to wait in line.”

An ethnic group’s blockade of a key border point with India is leaving Nepal with only about 15 percent of its normal supply of gasoline, diesel and cooking fuel, and creating shortages of other goods including food and medicine.

The group’s dispute with the government is part of the political dysfunction that has held back development and even prevented the adoption of a constitution for nearly a decade. Now it is threatening lives as hundreds of thousands of people, many of them displaced by Nepal’s devastating spring earthquakes, face the winter without fuel, secure housing and many essential goods.

“We are all suffering. Prices of food have gone up and there is shortage of many things here,” Parwar said in Kathmandu, the capital. “It is the common people who are suffering. The rich and the leaders are getting the fuel and gas and living comfortably.”

A look at Nepal’s crisis through the eyes of those close to the dispute, and others who are struggling with its consequences:

THE MADHESIS’ COMPLAINT

Members of the Madhesi ethnic group in south and southeast Nepal are blockading the border to protest Nepal’s new constitution, which was adopted in September after years of infighting. The group wants a larger Madhesi province and more seats in Parliament than they have been given.

Madhesi protesters have clashed with police, attacked public vehicles and shut down highways. At least 50 protesters, police and bystanders have died in the violence.

Upendra Yadav, a leading Madhesi protest leader, blames the government for ignoring their demands and using excessive force to crush peaceful demonstrations.

“Just last week the government sent their goons to disrupt our mass gathering, burning down the stage and chasing our supporters,” Yadav said.

The Madhesis have held talks with government negotiators at least nine times but have not reached any agreement.

“We are very clear with our demands,” Yadav said, accusing the government of failing to present a clear agenda.

THE GOVERNMENT’S RESPONSE

The coalition government led by Prime Minister Khadga Prasad Oli took office after the protests began with promises it would resolve the conflict, but two months later, a solution is nowhere in sight.

The government has said it’s ready to make changes to the constitution but has said little about protesters’ demands for a bigger province. The Himalayan country has more than 100 ethnic groups, and while the Madhesi are among the largest, making up about a fifth of Nepal’s 30 million people, there are fears that a deal to end the blockade could set off protests elsewhere.

“We fear that giving more land to the Madhesi province and making changes to the state boundaries could trigger new conflicts in the country,” said Pradip Gyawali, secretary of the ruling Communist Party of Nepal (United Marxist Leninist). Gyawali said any such changes would require detailed research and agreement among the main political parties.

A TENT FOR WINTER

Sundari Lama was forced to live in a tent this spring after her house was destroyed in the April earthquake that killed nearly 9,000 people. She eventually moved into an apartment, but now she’s back in the tent, this time because of the blockade.

With no gas available, she must cook with wood, but she’s not allowed to burn wood in the apartment. So she’s bracing for near-freezing winter temperatures in the drafty tent in the outskirts of Kathmandu with her husband and their 5-month-old daughter.

And the fuel shortage is just part of her family’s hardship. Food prices are soaring: A bottle of vegetable oil has tripled in price to 300 rupees ($2.81). And work has become scarce for her husband, a day laborer.

“First we got hit by the earthquake, losing our homes and then this blockade is causing so much difficulty and pain,” Lama said. “We are collecting wood from fallen houses and from wherever we can, but how long can we go on like this?”

OPPOSITION’S VIEW

Nepali Congress, the main opposition and largest party, says it is trying to mediate a solution between the government and the protesters. It blames government apathy for the lack of progress, though it shares the government’s concern that overly generous concessions to the Madhesis could drive other ethnic groups to protest.

“The government is not clear on what they are doing to deal with the situation. They have no idea or any plan and come to talks unprepared,” said Ram Hari Khatiwada, a Nepali Congress lawmaker. “But if a solution is not found soon this situation could escalate.”

Nepali Congress and Oli’s ruling party are traditional rivals, and Khatiwada acknowledged that their rivalry “is one of the reasons for the obstacles in the talks with the Madhesi.” He said it’s time for that to end.

“The prime minister needs to act as leader of a nation and not chief of a party,” he said.

ONE DAY WITH GAS, SIX WITHOUT

Since most of Nepal’s imported goods flow through India, many businesses are being squeezed by the blockade. They are having a tough time paying rent, utility bills and employee salaries.

Madan Gautam has been able to open his Chakupat Fuel Center in Kathmandu only about once a week, and he’s not sure how long he can survive. He gets fuel only from the state-owned Nepal Oil Corp., which distributes its limited supplies to stations on a rotating basis.

“I get about 4,000 liters (1,060 gallons) of fuel one day a week to distribute, but there are hundreds of vehicles lined up outside the pump every day,” Gautam said. “I work one day a week and have nothing to do the next six days. … At this rate we will all go out of business.”

A SMOKY DUMPLING SHOP

Most people in Nepal blame politicians for their country’s troubles. After the end of an authoritarian monarchy and a bloody communist insurgency nearly a decade ago, a new constitution was supposed to bring positive changes in the new republic. The years since, however, have seen a host of political squabbles and seven different governments.

“Our leaders have failed us again and again. They have done nothing more than work either for themselves, their close supporters and or their own parties. They have done little for the country and the people,” said K.C. Raja, who serves buffalo dumplings and noodles at his Top Ten Momo Restaurant near the Boudhanath stupa in Kathmandu. He too lacks cooking gas and must cook by burning wood, which fills his small shop with smoke and has already blackened the walls.

“These leaders don’t have to wait in line to fill their fuel tanks,” Raja said, “or worry about how to cook dinner without gas.”

Thousands of Nepalese pray for earthquake victims

May 07, 2015

KATHMANDU, Nepal (AP) — Thousands of people dressed in white offered prayers, flowers and lit incense at home and in temples Thursday as part of a Hindu ritual marking the end of a 13-day mourning period for those killed in the massive earthquake.

Families and friends also published condolence messages with photographs of victims in local newspapers. The mourners assembled amid the piles of stones, mud, bricks and wooden beams that once formed centuries-old temples, palaces and structures toppled in the April 25 quake, which killed more than 7,750 people. The main ceremony was held in the ruins of Kastamandap, a temple after which the capital, Kathmandu, was named.

“There are so many people and so many buildings we have all lost in the earthquake. I am here to show my support for these families and to say that we are all here for you,” said Alok Shrestha, a banker dressed in white t-shirt and holding a bouquet of marigold.

During the customary 13-day mourning period, close family members stay at home, do not touch outsiders and refrain from eating salt. No entertainment is allowed. Nearly 500 people gathered at Kathmandu’s historic center, Basantapur Durbar Square, whose temples were reduced to rubble, to offer prayers.

Bhimsen Das Shrestha, a lawmaker representing Kathmandu, said the government should enforce new rules to make buildings earthquake-resistant. “When we rebuild the structures in Kathmandu, we need to consider new technologies in earthquake-prone areas,” he said.

Meanwhile, Nepal Rastra Bank, the central bank, announced that people whose houses were damaged could get loans at only 2 percent interest rate. The average commercial loan rate is about 10 percent. Bank official Min Bahadur Shrestha told state-run Radio Nepal that people in Kathmandu could avail of up to 2.5 million rupees ($25,000) and those outside the capital of 1.5 million rupees ($15,000) in loans.

More than a thousand engineers were checking damaged houses in the capital and advising people about whether they are safe. About 13,000 families have requested inspections of their homes since the magnitude-7.8 earthquake, Nepal Engineers Association General Secretary Kishore Kumar Jha said.

About 40 percent of the damaged houses inspected so far were considered safe, he said. It is still unclear how many houses were damaged in the capital and how many are repairable. Some modern buildings — including upscale hotels and expensive homes — appear to have escaped largely unscathed. But poorer neighborhoods suffered widespread damage.

Much of Kathmandu’s Old City, home to many of the precious UNESCO World Heritage sites, was destroyed. Many villages outside the capital also were completely flattened. As aftershocks continue to shake the capital, many people still are afraid to return to their homes.

Police say about one-third of Kathmandu’s population of 700,000 had left the city since the earthquake. Many others have moved in with relatives, while some are staying in tents in open areas.

Tag Cloud