Rival communist faction calls national strike in Nepal to turn up heat on premier

KATHMANDU (Reuters) – A faction of Nepal’s ruling communist party declared a nationwide strike on Thursday to ramp up opposition against Prime Minister K.P. Sharma Oli for dissolving parliament and seeking fresh polls amid a pandemic-induced economic crisis.

The call to shutdown businesses, shops, educational institutions was part of protest campaign launched across the Himalayan nation, after Oli dissolved parliament on Dec. 20 citing a lack of cooperation from other leaders of his Nepal Communist Party (NCP).

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.

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.

The streets in the capital Kathmandu were deserted on Thursday morning and television channels reported that some protesters clashed with police but there were no immediate report of major violence.

“A taxi was set on fire and three other vehicles were vandalized in Kathmandu by activists,” said Ashok Singh, a police officer, adding that more than 70 activists had been detained.

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.