Thousands of Maoists have taken to the streets demanding a change of government
KATHMANDU (UCAN) — Nepal has been brought to a standstill by an indefinite general strike by Maoists looking to bring down the government.
Tens of thousands of Maoists have taken to the streets of Kathmandu and other towns across the country, while shops and businesses are closed.
Many people said they were unable to attend Mass over the weekend because of the disruption to the transport system and because of the sheer numbers of protesters in the street.
Local Catholics living within walking distance from churches attended services but those who live further away stayed at home.
“There were only 15 people for morning Sunday Mass but about 30 for the evening one,” said Father Silas Bogati, acting parish priest of Assumption Church in central Kathmandu, told UCAN.
One of the strike leaders, Leknath Neupane, said the protesters will fight on “empty stomachs and camp in the streets till the present government falls.”
Though the protests have been largely peaceful, the disruption to daily life is raising concerns among Church people in Nepal.
School and college exams have been disrupted or cancelled and patients waiting to go home after hospital treatment have been forced to stay put. Those seeking treatment fear braving the streets to get to the hospitals.
“I found it frightening to walk to the eye hospital since the streets were thick with crowds holding sticks and red flags,” Maryknoll Father Joseph Thaler told UCAN on May 2.
Father Thaler, who works among brick factory workers in southern Kathmandu, had arranged for some 20 poor daily wage earners to have eye operations on May 3.
“I do not know if they will be able to get to the eye hospital,” he said.
The closure of shops has also raised fears over food supplies.
In the western town of Surkhet, Sister of Charity of Nazareth nun, Cecelia Simick, told UCAN, “We’ve tried to go shopping but found the shops closed. Only shops selling medicine were open. People and protesters will run out of food soon.”
The nun added there were at least 10,000 people staging a sit-down protest in their small town center.
The Church is also worried about churches being flooded with protesters seeking shelter while the strike continues. Maoist supporters have tried to seek shelter at Assumption Church of Kathmandu twice since Friday and church authorities have had to seek police attention from the nearby police station “in case of forcible entry is attempted.”
But some churches are opening their doors to the protesters. Pastor Simon Pandey, Protestant head of the National Churches Fellowship Nepal (NCFN) told UCAN, “They are staying in various churches, but let us say they are lodging peacefully.”