Armed escorts for oil tankers as strike cripples supply system
(dpa) - The Nepalese government Saturday implemented emergency measures to deal with fuel shortages in much of the country as an indefinite strike called by ethnic groups in southern Nepal entered its fourth day crippling the supply system and normal life.
The government said it would provide armed security escorts for oil tankers ferrying petroleum products from collection depots in southern Nepal to other parts of the country.
"Some oil tankers are already on their way to Kathmandu," Supply Minister Shyam Sundar Gupta said as most petrol pumps across the capital stopped selling fuel.
"Security personnel will also be deployed at regular intervals in the highway to prevent attacks," Gupta said.
The government measure came as fuel shortages in Kathmandu and other parts of the country reached critical levels with only a few government-owned stations still distributing petrol and diesel.
The shortage worsened Tuesday after the supply system was hit by a strike called by ethnic groups in southern Nepal which effectively prevented the oil from being transported from the border areas.
"We have been in the queue for more than eight hours and there is still no guarantee that we will get petrol," Taxi driver Hari Shrestha said.
The shortage has also meant that most public transport vehicles were not operating in the Nepalese capital Kathmandu.
Traffic police estimates put the number of vehicles still in operation in Kathmandu at just 50 per cent.
Meanwhile, a crippling strike in southern Nepal entered its fourth day with no signs of ending anytime soon.
On Friday, Nepalese Prime Minister Girija Prasad Koirala held talks with the leader of the United Democratic Madhesi Front (UDMF) in an attempt to end the strike.
UDMF, which is spearheading the strike, however, said it was in no mood to back down.
"The talks were inconclusive," President of UDMF Mahanta Thakur said. "Our demands must be met before we take back our strike call."
The group along with other ethnic groups in southern Nepalese plains known as Terai are demanding autonomous state for Terai with the right to self determination. The group also wants increased representation of ethnic Madhesis in government jobs and security forces.
The groups say although a third of Nepal's 27 million people can be classified as ethnic Madhesis, they were underrepresented in government and not recruited in the military service.
The strike has closed down industries, markets and educational institutions and halted public and private transport across the region.
Reports from the area say people are increasingly facing difficulties as supplies run out.
On Saturday, at least three people were injured in clashes with police in Bara district, about 90 kilometres south of the capital Kathmandu.
Police said they fired into the crowd to disperse demonstrators trying to block highways. At least three people were wounded in the firing.
Southern Nepal has seen escalating violence since the Maoists and the government signed a peace deal in November 2006. Since then more than 140 people have died in violence across the region.